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:
- You may not store the wipes for more than 180 days.
- There must not be free liquids as determined by the Paint Filter Liquids Test (EPA Methods Test 9095B)
- The wipes must be kept in a non-leaking closed contained
- 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.