Category Archives: Hazardous waste management

In this category, we discuss what you need to know about managingyour hazardous wastes.

EPA’s New Rule on Solvent-Contaminated Shop Rags

Back in 1992, the foreman and plant manager of a print shop in Tampa Florida disposed of their solvent-soaked shop rags in their dumpsters. They had been warned by the county inspector to cease such practice because the rags contained a spent solvent. They ignored the warnings and one day two 9-year kids got inside the dumpster to play and died from toluene fume asphyxiation. The plant manager and foreman were subsequently sentenced to prison for knowing endangerment and illegal disposal of hazardous wastes without a permit.

The proper disposal of shop rags that are soaked in spent solvent has always been a thorny issue for generators. The disposal practice has been mainly regulated by individual states. Many states prohibit the disposal of shop rags in dumpsters. EPA has never promulgated any regulations on such practice until very recently.

On July 30, 2013, EPA published its final rules on the proper disposal of solvent-contaminated shop rags and wipes. These final rules are set to go into effective January 31, 2014.

According to EPA, over 2.2 billion wipes are generated by industries annually and many of them contain spent solvents. The new EPA rule can be summarized as follows:

If you have a wipe that is contaminated with spent solvents or is ignitable, you have several options to manage and dispose of these.

If the wipe is reusable (made of cloth), you can send it to a laundry facility that has  been approved by EPA to wash these wipes.

If the wipe is non-reusable (made of paper), you can dispose of it in a municipal landfill or hazardous waste landfill or an industrial incinerator.

You must meet the following conditions:

  1. You may not store the wipes for more than 180 days.
  2. There must not be free liquids as determined by the Paint Filter Liquids Test (EPA Methods Test 9095B)
  3. The wipes must be kept in a non-leaking closed contained
  4. Documentation must be kept that these wipes are being managed as excluded solvent-contaminated wipes.

If you meet all of these conditions, your solvent-contaminated wipes are then excluded from the definition of hazardous wastes. In essence, these wastes will be viewed by EPA as being somewhat similar to universal wastes.

One note of caution, ONLY the wipes are being excluded. The spent solvent that comes out of these wipes are not excluded. Wipes containing trichloroethylene are NOT part of this exclusion.

You can download a copy of EPA’s final rule here.


Small Quantity Generator storage time of 270 days

The normal storage time for SQG is 180 days.

40 CFR 262.34(f) states that if “a generator who generates greater than 100 kilograms but less than 1000 kilograms of hazardous waste in a calendar month and who must transport his waste, or offer his waste for transportation, over a distance of 200 miles or more for off-site treatment, storage or disposal may accumulate hazardous waste on-site for 270 days or less without a permit or without having interim status.”

If you read the regulation closely, it states that SQG gets the extra 90 days only if he MUST transport his waste over a distance of 200 miles or more. Someone asked EPA the question: What if there is a facility closer than 200 miles away, is it permissible for the generator to ship to one that is more than 200 miles away and still claim the extra 90 days?

EPA’s own guidance document (RCRA Online 9451.1987(04)) provides the answer. The agency does not want to tell a SQG what facility he must choose to dispose of its waste. It leaves it up to the generator to make that decision. For example, if there is a TSDF within 200 miles and a recycling facility outside the 200 miles radius, the SQG is free to pick the recycling facility if it is a better facility for its wastes.

Demystifying “Environmental Sustainability”

There has been much talk over the past few years about enviornmental sustainability. Everyone is talking about it. Even people with degrees in French Literature are talking about it! Conferences are held on environmental sustainability. There are hundreds of definitions of sustainability and yet no one seems to understand what it really means. So-called experts are coming up with “metrics” and “indices” as new ways to measure sustainability and none has universal acceptance.

Sustainability is the new environmental buzzword of this decade.  What exactly is it?

According to EPA, sustainability is based on a simple principle:  “Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations”.

What this definition says is that as we make our products, we should make sure that there is as little net negative impact on the environment as possible. A good example to illustrate this concept is to look at our savings account in the bank. If we have $1000 in the bank and its pays 3% interest a year, the sustainable way to manage this bank account would be to spend no more than $30 a year. On the other hand, if we were to draw down the principal amount by spending more than $30 a year, we would deplete the account over time and there will be nothing left for our children. It would not be a sustainable account.

Think of nature as one gigantic bank account. As we make our products, we need to make sure that the rate at which we take something away from nature is no faster than nature’s own rejuvenation rate. For example, if we discharge too much pollutants to a river, the river may not be able to assimilate the pollutants in time and the net results would be a depletion of dissolved oxygen in the water and fish kill. The river in this example is not being sustained and the practice of discharging pollutants into this river is not sustainable.

This concept of “sustainability” is not new at all. Regulatory agencies’ permitting programs have been taking sustainability into account for years. In fact, the entire premise behind permitting is sustainability. The amount of pollutant you are allowed to discharge into a stream under a permit is entirely dependent on the assimilative capacity of that stream. Your permit conditions demand that.  If there are too many sources of pollution going into a particular water body that is under stress, the Clean Water Act requires that a waste load allocation scheme be set up to regulate how many sources can discharge how much pollutants into that body of water.

On the air side, if we wish to build a new power plant in a non-attainment area (i.e. where the National Ambient Air Quality Standards are not being met at the time), the agency will require us to “offset” our new pollutant by removing more than the new amount from an existing source under the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review Program. For example, if we wish to emit 1000 tons of new soot into the atmosphere in Los Angeles, we would have to either purchase an existing plant that is currently emitting 1500 tons of soot and shut it down or purchase emission credit in the open market. That’s the Clean Air Act’s way of ensuring sustainability. You must remove from the existing inventory more than what you plan to emit.

If we plan to build our new power plant in a city where the air is clean (an attainment area), we would have to get a PSD (Prevention of Significant Deterioration) permit from EPA to demonstrate that our new power plant will not jeopardize the attainment status under the Clean Air Act. We will have to put in the most advanced pollution control equipment to do that and demonstrate through computer modeling that the new plant would not cause the area to be re-classified as non-attainment. That’s another example of sustainability.

The above examples also illustrate the two main approaches to environmental sustainability, namely, “waste minimization” and “pollution prevention”. These concepts have been around for years as well! Every manager knows that if he can find a way to make his products by generating less wastes and causing less pollution, he will save money in the long run.

Years ago, the canning industry converted from making three-piece cans with lead soldered side seams to making two-piece cans with water-based sealing compound for the same sustainability reasons. The water-based sealing compounds generates no hazardous wastes and the whole process causes a lot less pollution.

If you are doing a decent job in waste minimization and pollution prevention, you are well on your way to environmental sustainability. You don’t need any fancy three-dimensional charts or metrics to tell you that.

So the next time someone asks if you are practicing “environmental sustainability”, tell him about what you are doing in waste minimization and pollution prevention.

Or ask him: What else is new?

The concept of Point-of-Generation

RCRA defines a solid waste as something that has been abandoned. For a material to be abandoned, someone (a person) has to make a decision to discard it. Once the material is abandoned and if it exhibits one of more of the 4 characteristics (ignitability, corrosively, reactivity and toxicity), it is classified as a  RCRA hazardous waste. If it has been listed as a listed waste (F,K,P or U), it is also classified as a hazardous waste.

The Point of Generation refers to the time when a material becomes a waste. If you have a brew of corrosive material inside a manufacturing vat, RCRA has NO jurisdiction over it because the material is in a manufacturing process and no one has decided to discard it. Once someone takes it out from the vat (remove it from the manufacturing process) and decides to discard (then abandon) the corrosive material, it becomes a solid waste and hazardous waste – in that order.

What if the manufacturing process stops, can the corrosive material sits inside the vat indefinitely? The answer is NO. The reason is that 40 CFR 261.4(c) states that the material will be considered abandoned by the operator after 90 days. This is to prevent people from storing their wastes inside an idle manufacturing unit indefinitely.

If you apply this principal to a clandestine drug bust, you get an interesting story. The illegal drug (a hazardous material) is brewing inside a vat when law enforcement (DEA) kicks down the door and arrests the operator. Has the operator abandoned the hazardous material inside the vat?  No. Why would he? He would love to sell that drug on the street. So why would he discard that material? In this scenario, it is the DEA agents that make the decision to discard everything in the drug lab as a matter of policy because it ASSUMES everything in the lab is contaminated. The policy decision to discard ALL material is made to protect the agents and the community at large.

Technically speaking, all that material sitting inside the vat is hazardous material (not hazardous waste) for 90 days before it becomes abandoned per 40 CFR 261.4 (c) or when someone decides to discard it – whichever comes first. But in reality, they are hauled off and disposed of as hazardous wastes (per DEA policy) by DEA – who will be the generator of those wastes.

A generator is a person that FIRST causes a material to be abandoned.

The concept of Generator’s Knowledge

There are two ways to determine if you have a hazardous waste: The first way is generator’s knowledge and the second way is laboratory analysis.

If you purchase and use 100 gallons of solvents a month to clean your machine, you know that you have generated spent solvent which in most instances is a hazardous waste. This is your “generator’s knowledge”. You do NOT need to analyze your spent solvent to show that it is hazardous. Based on your knowledge of how you use your material, you have the knowledge to determine that it is hazardous.


On the other hand, if you find 5 drums of unknown chemicals sitting in your warehouse and no one can tell you where they came from. You have NO generator’s knowledge and you must conduct chemical analysis to determine if these drums contain hazardous waste.

Secondary Containment for Hazardous Waste Generators

I was reading the June 2011 issue of Pollution Engineering magazine and noticed that there was an article in it that talked about secondary containment for hazardous waste container storage areas. It cited 40 CFR 264.175. The article was written by someone who makes and sells secondary containment units.

It is important to understand that there is NO federal requirement for secondary containment at hazardous waste storage area IF you are a generator. 40 CFR 264.175 pertains only to TSDF – these are the commercial facilities that treat store and dispose of other people’s hazardous wastes and they have a RCRA Part B permit.

Waste generators are exempt from this requirement because they store their wastes for no longer than 90/180/270 days. As long as they stay within their appropriate time limits, they are not required to have a RCRA permit and 40 CFR 264.175 does not apply.

It is good management practice to have secondary containment but it is NOT required by federal law. Some states do have state laws that require secondary containment for anyone who stores wastes on site. Pennsylvania is one of them.

“alcohol exclusion” in EPA’s ignitable waste definition

Under EPA’s hazardous waste regulations, any aqueous solution that has a flash point of less than 140 degree F is considered to be ignitable and therefore a hazardous waste.

There is one exclusion (40 CFR 261.21(a)(1)). The ignitability definition does not apply to any aqueous solution that is ignitable because it contains less than 24 percent alcohol by volume. That excludes wine and some liquors that have less than 24% alcohol by volume. It also means that  most bar tenders will not become hazardous waste generators.

The term alcohol refers to any form of alcohol – not just ethanol.  It includes any chemical containing the hydroxyl [-OH] functional group.  The term “aqueous solution” refers to any solution that has at least 50% by weight of water.

This is all documented in one of EPA’s guidance documents on RCRA Online.