Hazardous Waste Management

Regulated Hazardous Waste 101

  1. Is the material a solid waste?
  2. Is the waste specifically excluded from RCRA’s hazardous waste regulation?
  3. If the waste is a solid waste, is the solid waste “hazardous”? This requires you to determine:
    • Is the waste a “listed” hazardous waste?
    • Does the waste exhibit one or more of the four characteristics of hazardous waste?

Is It a Solid Waste?

Under RCRA Subtitle C, “solid waste” is defined “as any garbage, refuse, sludge from a waste treatment plant, or air pollution control facility and any other discarded material, including solid, liquid, semisolid, or contained gaseous material resulting from industrial, commercial, mining, and agricultural operations and community activities, but does not include solid or dissolved material in domestic sewage” (RCRA, 42 USC 6903(27)).

A discarded material is any material that is abandoned, recycled, or inherently wastelike. Materials are excluded from the definition of solid waste if documentation shows that they are recycled by being:

  • Used or reused as ingredients in an industrial process to make a product (provided the materials are not being reclaimed);
  • Used or reused as effective substitutes for commercial products; or
  • Returned to the original process from which they were generated without being first reclaimed or land disposed (e.g., returned as a substitute for feedstock materials).

Once you determine that your material is a solid waste, the next step is to find out if the waste meets any of the four categories of exclusion from hazardous waste. If the exclusion applies to your waste, the waste is not regulated and your determination process ends.

Determining Your Hazardous Waste Status

If your waste fits the definition of solid waste, it may be regulated as a hazardous waste if it could:

  • Cause injury or death; or
  • Damage or pollute air, water, or land.

There are two ways a waste may be brought into the hazardous waste regulatory system: by listing or by identification through characteristics.

Listed Wastes

Your waste is considered hazardous if it appears on any one of the lists of hazardous wastes contained in the RCRA regulations. These wastes have been listed because they either exhibit one of the characteristics described below or contain any number of toxic constituents that have been shown to be harmful to health and the environment. The regulations list more than 400 hazardous wastes, including wastes derived from manufacturing processes and discarded commercial chemical products.

Characteristic Wastes

Even if a waste does not appear on one of EPA’s lists, it is considered hazardous if it has one or more of the following characteristics:

  • It is easily combustible or flammable. This is called ignitable waste. Examples are paint wastes, certain degreasers, or other solvents.
  • It dissolves metals or other materials or burns the skin. This is called corrosive waste. Examples are waste rust removers, waste acid or alkaline cleaning fluids, and waste battery acid.
  • It is unstable or undergoes rapid or violent chemical reaction with water or other materials. This is called reactive waste. Examples are cyanide plating wastes, waste bleaches, and other waste oxidizers.
  • Toxic wastes are harmful or fatal when ingested or absorbed. A waste is updated as hazardous if it has toxic constituents capable of leaching from the waste into water systems. EPA uses the TCLP as the test for determining toxicity. TCLP testing is required as a test before land disposal of a hazardous waste.
  • Your industry may generate other hazardous wastes beyond the examples mentioned here. It is your responsibility to determine whether your wastes are hazardous.

Acutely Hazardous Wastes

Some wastes are considered to be “acutely hazardous.” These are wastes that EPA has determined to be so dangerous in small amounts that they are regulated the same way as are large amounts of hazardous wastes. Acutely hazardous wastes, for example, may be generated using certain pesticides. They also include dioxin-containing wastes.

If your business generates more than 1 kilogram (kg) (approximately 2.2 pounds) of acutely hazardous wastes in any calendar month or stores more than that amount for any period of time, you are subject to all of the regulations that apply to generators that generate more than 1,000 kg of hazardous waste in a calendar month.

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