Editor’s Note: Welcome to part 11 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.
Prior to the creation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), many of the nation’s water, soil and air resources were polluted due to the improper management of solid and hazardous wastes generated by industry. Because these wastes were not regulated prior to RCRA, facilities were free to dispose of their wastes whenever and wherever they wanted.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) realized that in order to prevent further contamination, these practices needed to be stopped. Rules created under RCRA required waste generators to make solid and hazardous waste determinations and properly manage their wastes. It even established cradle-to-grave liability, which makes each generator responsible for their wastes after disposal.
One of the main goals under RCRA is to encourage generators to look for opportunities to reuse, reclaim and recycle wastes instead of disposing of them. The EPA offers solid and hazardous waste exemptions to encourage facilities to recycle eligible wastes [40 CFR 261.4].
The EPA provides 26 specific solid waste exemptions and 17 hazardous waste exemptions [40 CFR 261.4]. Here are five common exemptions that could apply to your facility:
1. Solvent-Contaminated Wipes
Many different types of industries use wipes to either apply or remove solvents. Properly managing reusable and disposable wipes allows them to be washed and reused OR to be disposed of in a manner that does not cause substantial environmental harm.
2. Non-Terne-Plated Oil Filters
Used oil filters that have been gravity hot drained by puncturing, crushing or dismantling to remove the used oil can be recycled with scrap metals.
3. Industrial Wastewater Discharges
Pipelines, storm drainage systems and any other paths that wastewater may take when leaving an industrial facility are called “point sources.” Any facility that discharges pollutants from a point source is subject to Clean Water Act Regulations. These regulations require facilities to obtain an NPDES permit from the EPA that specifies the amounts of a contaminant that may be discharged.
4. Excluded Scrap Metals
The small bits and pieces of metal, bolts, shavings and other scraps that are left over when producing or repairing metal objects are highly recyclable. When these small turnings are collected and recycled, they are exempted from solid waste regulation.
5. Secondary Materials
Sometimes, when items are produced or repaired, there are leftover materials (by-products, sludges, etc.) that are not a useful part of the finished product. These are “secondary materials.” Often, these leftovers can be recycled and reused again in the process to make additional products. The facility may not speculatively accumulate the materials and must manage them as a commodity in order to be eligible for the exemption. The secondary materials may be used in the same process; by the same facility or transferred to another facility for reclamation.
Full List of Solid and Hazardous Waste Exemptions
Download this chart of 26 solid waste and 17 hazardous waste exemptions that could apply to your facility!
GET THE FULL LIST OF EXEMPTIONS
Importance of Waste Exemptions
It is important for generators to know about solid and hazardous waste exemptions that may apply to their facility because exemptions could reduce the facility’s generator status. Because exemptions focus on recycling or reclamation of waste materials instead of disposal, these exemptions also help preserve natural resources, reduce the costs associated with purchasing virgin raw materials and limit future liability.
Facilities can utilize solid waste exemptions if they choose to do at least one of the following:
- Reuse their wastes as an ingredient in a production process
- Substitute their waste for a commercial product
- Return their waste directly to a production process to be used as a feedstock or raw material
Generators can also receive hazardous waste exemptions that allow them to manage their hazardous wastes as solid wastes for processes that recycle hazardous wastes in certain ways, including:
- Using the hazardous waste in a manner that constitutes disposal, such as using petroleum refining wastes to make asphalt [40 CFR 266, Subpart C]
- Burning the hazardous waste for energy recovery to produce a fuel [40 CFR 266, Subpart H]
- Speculatively accumulating hazardous wastes that have no viable market or that are recycled in volumes less than 75 percent per calendar year [40 CFR 261.1(c)(8)]
- Using dioxin-containing wastes, even if they are being recycled, to ensure that they will be managed properly as solid wastes until recycled
Eligibility for and Limitations to Exemptions
When considering each exemption, generators need to verify that they are eligible to take the exemption because some are limited to specific types of industries. It’s also important to note that some exemptions are not blanket exemptions that apply to the waste stream. The exemption may only apply if the waste is reclaimed or recycled in a particular manner.
Exemptions may also only apply to a particular facility. Any person is allowed to petition the EPA for a solid or hazardous waste exemption [40 CFR 260.20]. The petition must be sent to the EPA by certified mail and must describe the waste stream, as well as proposed language for any actions to be taken. The EPA will respond either by making a notice of proposed rulemaking or a denial of the petition. The notice will be published in the Federal Register.
Proper Waste Storage and Handling to Comply with Exemption Regs
Just because some solid and hazardous wastes qualify for exemptions doesn’t mean that the generator is relieved of storage or handling requirements. Wastes that won’t be reclaimed or recycled immediately need to be stored in tanks, containers or other devices that are in good condition, not leaking and kept closed to prevent releases that could enter the environment.
Facilities also need to be prepared for emergencies. This includes best practices such as stocking spill response supplies, like spill kits, absorbents and berms and providing secondary containment, such as decks and pallets. Employees should be aware of the facility’s emergency response plans and trained on their response roles.
RCRA established the waste hierarchy to help facilities manage their wastes in a responsible manner. Generators that take a comprehensive look at their waste streams, apply exemptions and consider reuse, recycling and reclamation opportunities can minimize their future liability, lower expenses and safeguard the environment.