Editor’s Note: Welcome to part 1 in our series about the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). During this series, we’ll guide you through proper hazardous waste handling so you stay compliant and safe.
We don’t often spend much time thinking about putting an empty water bottle into the recycling bin. We also don’t usually think twice about getting rid of take-out containers or that really smelly brown banana on the kitchen counter. Our waste goes straight to the trashcan, into a recycling bin or onto the compost pile. When it comes to recycling and disposal at home, our actions are second nature.
However, when wastes are generated at work, the process of deciding what needs to happen to them is more involved. Simply dumping something out back or tossing it in the dumpster could lead to huge fines for violating the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA).
No matter what products your company makes, in the EPA’s world, if you generate waste, you are collectively grouped in a large category of sites called “waste generators.” As a waste generator, you must follow the RCRA regulations for storing, handling, transporting and disposing of solid and hazardous wastes generated anywhere at your facility. The first step in this process is making a solid waste determination for all wastes leaving the facility.
The EPA says a “solid waste” can take the form of solid, liquid or gas. By definition, solid wastes are any discarded materials that are not excluded or granted a variance within 40 CFR 261.4. Discarded materials include wastes that are:
- Abandoned (disposed of, burned, incinerated or accumulated in lieu of disposal)
- Recycled (reused or reclaimed, but in a manner that constitutes disposal)
- Considered inherently waste-like
- A military munition [40 CFR 261.2]
The EPA does have a number of exemptions to the solid waste rule. Because they strive to preserve and protect the environment, the EPA strongly encourages facilities to recycle and avoid disposal whenever possible. To that end, any materials that will be reclaimed, recycled or used again are not solid wastes. Other examples of excluded materials are:
- Domestic sewage
- Wastewater discharges governed under the Clean Water Act
- Scrap metals that will be recycled
- Solvent-contaminated wipes that are being sent for cleaning and reuse
- 22 other items specifically listed at 40 CFR 261.4
Wastes may be excluded from solid waste regulations for a number of reasons. For example, domestic sewage and wastewater discharges are governed under the Clean Water Act, so there was no need to manage them as RCRA wastes. Other items are exempt because they can readily be recycled or reused. In some cases, such as solvent-contaminated wipes, the EPA has done extensive testing to determine that they do not pose a significant threat to the environment.
It is the generator’s responsibility to use their knowledge of processes within the facility to make solid waste determinations. This is also a critical step for generators who must also make hazardous waste determinations, because a material must first be a solid waste before it can be a hazardous waste.
Need more help making solid waste determinations? Use this chart to determine which stuff in your facility is a solid waste.