Five Steps to Properly Identify Hazardous Waste

Five Steps to Properly Identify Hazardous Waste

Men-Working-With-Hazardous-Waste-Barrels Hazardous waste disposal is one of the most important factors when it comes to handling your regulated waste. Because of the “cradle to grave” legal framework that applies to regulated waste, your facility is responsible for the hazardous materials it produces from the moment they enter your possession to the moment they’re properly disposed of.

On a state level, even simple bureaucratic mistakes can lead to hefty fines, like this South Carolina health provider that was fined $28,000for failing to properly label and organize its hazardous waste. Larger organizations can easily make themselves vulnerable to much steeper penalties, as in the case of Home Depot, whose California facilities werefined nearly $28 millionby state and local authorities for sending regulated hazardous waste to standard landfills.

Federally, the Environmental Protection Agencyassesses penaltiesof up to $50,000 per day for each category of hazardous waste violation, and may levy a fine of up to $1 million for larger organizations which “knowingly endanger” others with mismanagement of hazardous waste. The agency is also able to pursue criminal penalties ranging from five to 15 years in prison.

With so many factors to consider—and such a significant price to pay for failure—it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the task of maintaining hazardous waste compliance. How do you account for all the moving parts in your facility to ensure you’re on top of regulated hazards, especially when waste management likely comprises a minority of your responsibilities?

Working with a fully licensed and certified hazardous waste management provider is the best way to ensure you remain compliant “to the grave,” but the first step starts in your own facility.

Here are five questions you can ask yourself in order to properly identify and manage your hazardous waste.

1. Is the waste a “solid waste?”

On the federal level, most hazardous waste designations are covered by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The RCRA uses the specific term “solid waste” to determine whether a material (hazardous or otherwise) is covered under waste disposal regulations. However, in this context, “solid waste” can refer to any hazardous material, whether genuinely solid, sludge or even liquid.

Gaseous substances not contained in a closed vessel are the only substances you’re likely to come into contact with that fall outside that definition. Similarly, liquid sewage and certain radioactive materials are also excluded from RCRA disposal regulations (though they remain covered by other laws).

2. Is the waste excluded?

The RCRA contains provisions related to a wide variety of solid waste material, but only a portion of that waste falls under the rubric of “hazardous waste.” Notably, many chemicals and other materials that are hazardous in actuality are nonetheless excluded from regulations because of their “household” nature, which was specifically accounted for by legislators when drafting the relevant laws. 

Typically, such household waste products are not covered by hazardous waste regulations, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes, using household products on an industrial scale is enough to bring them under the umbrella of hazardous material regulations.

Figuring out whether a given material is legally hazardous or not can be a complex endeavor, so most facilities are best served by partnering with a knowledgeable and experienced waste management provider who can furnish clear guidelines for individual facilities, along withidentifying excluded waste materials.

3. Is the waste a “listed” hazardous waste?

Hazardous waste is only covered by federal regulations if it’s included in one of the EPA’s listed hazardous waste categories. The agency uses these lists to identify specific types of waste across a variety of industries and use cases.

Regulated hazardous waste is broken into four category lists, each of which contains anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred specific waste streams and material categories. 

The four regulated hazardous waste lists are:

  • The F List:This list contains solid waste typically produced by common manufacturing or industrial activity in a variety of industries. Accordingly, they’re referred to as “nonspecific sources” of waste.
  • The K List:This list relates to hazardous waste produced by closely defined and specific industries, and usually from specific sources.
  • The P and U Lists:These lists primarily relate to unused chemicals produced in commercial grade or otherwise “pure” formulations, usually in industrial contexts.

4. Does the waste exhibit a characteristic of hazardous waste?

To determine whether a specific waste product is hazardous, the EPA focuses on the characteristics of the waste itself, not the context it was produced in.

There are four common characteristics that lead to hazardous designation:

  • Ignitability:Waste that is easily ignited and able to continue combusting is likely to be listed as hazardous.
  • Corrosivity:Waste that is alkaline or acidic enough to corrode other materials may be listed as hazardous.
  • Reactivity:Waste that can explode or become a part of other violent chemical reactions will likely be listed as hazardously reactive.
  • Toxicity:Waste that can become toxic when uncontained or released into the environment is likely to be similarly listed. 

5. Do the “mixture” and “derived from” rules make the waste non-hazardous?

Some hazardous waste materials can become legally “non-hazardous” depending on how they were produced, or what they were subsequently mixed with.

Generally, any substance that is specifically included on the EPA’s hazardous waste lists will remain hazardous no matter how it’s mixed or derived. However, a substance that is only listed under certain circumstances, or is regulated for having characteristics of hazardous waste but isnotlisted, may become legally non-hazardous in some cases.

Each substance’s hazardous classification is the result of specific EPA rules and scientific assessments, so you should always work with a knowledgeable waste management provider to determine whether a given material is covered by hazardous waste regulations.

By partnering with an experienced waste manager and working to clearly identify all hazardous materials in your facility, you can create a hazardous waste management system that ensures the integrity of your waste streams—from cradle to grave.

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