What is the cradle to grave system?

You may have never heard of the cradle to grave system, but it is an important part of the waste disposal process. This phrase refers to a company's responsibility for all aspects of its products or services from design and manufacturing through distribution and disposal. In a prior post summarizing “What is medical waste?” we discussed the importance of working with reputable waste management companies. The most important part of the medical waste management process is that it is packaged shipped and destroyed properly. The way any professional management company achieves this is through a cradle to grave tracking process.

This process was created in the mid 1900's when increasing solid generation did not have adequate disposal systems. Now, with the growing concern for sustainability, communities are still struggling with creating cost effective and environmentally friendly waste disposal solutions. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Laws and Regulations created a framework for the modern cradle to grave tracking system to make sure all boxes are checked when safely disposing of waste. These systems were widely adapted since waste management companies are always looking at ways to reduce costs while still providing quality service.

cradle to grave system for waste disposal
Credit: EPA.gov

So how does the cradle to grave system work?

Essentially, the cradle to grave system is a manifest paper trail or digital tracking system starting with the generator. The generator is the business or organization that generates the initial waste. The generator signs a release for the materials beginning a chain of custody. The transporter accepts the waste and the journey begins. All medical waste must be transported by trained professionals. Although not all states have transporter permit requirements, most DO so it is important that you verify state transporter permit ID’s before carrying out any waste transportation. These would be listed on the manifest documents as well. To maintain the consistency of tracking, implementing cradle-to-grave tracking software allows them to see where their recyclables are coming from and where they're going as well as the necessary information with each step. The result? More efficient inventory systems that help them become more sustainable!

Treatment Storage and Disposal Facilities

In some areas of the country proper destruction facilities are not abundant and as such many transporters may consolidate waste to larger trucks to make destruction more cost effective. This is called a secondary transporter or transfer facility. Even national waste companies utilize these kinds of facilities to consolidate waste and this would be reflected on your tracking form or manifest. 

The most important step in the process is the disposal of the waste. In order to maintain environment and community safety, the separation of waste allows for accurate disposal. The separation allows for some materials to be recycled while others are disposed of at treatment plants. This step is charted to make sure the disposal is accurate and will not result in pollution or other adverse effects. 

Finally, the waste arrives at the treatment or destruction site. This could be a high heat autoclave, a waste to energy incinerator, a plasma gasification, or chemical digester. There are many waste treatment technologies available. and ultimately the site will have permit numbers and a valid EPA ID number. Most states require the cradle to grave process happen in less than 35 days from the time of pickup. It is the generators responsibility to ensure that the waste is properly treated or destroyed, and that the manifest process is closed out and signed off in a timely manner. 

If there is anything we did not cover about waste disposal processes that you are still curious about, get in touch with us!