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The cost of safely disposing of the toxic chemicals is approximately five times what the company paid to purchase them.

The -ing and of seem indicate that "disposing" is a noun, and since "safely" is modifying "disposing" then shouldn't we use the adjective "safe" rather than the adverb "safely"?

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'Dispose' is the root of the verb which is being modified by the adverb 'safely'. – DopeGhoti Jan 2 '14 at 7:22
Not sure where you're getting the idea "disposing" is a noun. dispose is a verb that is followed by "of" and an object. safely adverbially modifies the verb. – virmaior Jan 2 '14 at 8:08
Note that dispose of sb/sth is a phrasal verb. – Em1 Jan 2 '14 at 8:25
As a side note, if you want a noun form of 'dispose', try 'disposal'. – childofsoong Sep 1 '15 at 19:56

The -ing indicates that "disposing" is a present participle, not a noun. The "of" indicates that it is used as a noun in the greater context of the sentence. Within its own phrase, it is still being used as a verb, though — and can, as such, be modified by an adverb.

This construction is grammatical, idiomatic, and extremely common in English. The term for this is gerund:

In Latin and English grammar, the gerund is a non-finite verb form that can function as a noun. [...]

In English, the gerund is one of the uses of the form of the verb ending in -ing. [...]

A gerund behaves as a verb within a clause (so that it may be modified by an adverb or have an object); but the resulting clause as a whole (sometimes consisting of only one word, the gerund itself) functions as a noun within the larger sentence.

Emphasis added. As you can see, your example sentence is a perfect example of just that.

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Safe disposal is not the same thing as safely disposing.

In a way, the safely relates to the (avoiding any) effect on whoever is doing the disposal. You are safe when you safely dispose of something.

On the other hand, adjective in safe disposal is disposing of something in such a way as not to cause hazardous effects to the environment (the others!).

However, safe disposal can also be used in the first-mentioned sense, but not vice versa. i.e., safely disposing cannot mean an environment-friendly way of doing it.

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Isn't "safely" an adverb? – user61133 Jan 2 '14 at 8:48
Oh yes, the POS should have been in the next para. Edited. – Kris Jan 2 '14 at 8:54
This is not the way the Australian EPA uses the term "safely disposing". It's not the way I would understand it either. Can you give any references that show this is a real distinction? – Peter Shor Jan 2 '14 at 15:07
@PeterShor The First two sentences of the reference you cited show the distinction. Please take your time. – Kris Jan 4 '14 at 7:11

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