Many small and large businesses that generate hazardous waste are at risk because they are out of compliance with the complex body of law that governs hazardous waste. This can result from a variety of factors, including personnel turnover, process changes, and the complicated nature of the regulations themselves.
The good news is that through an organized and disciplined approach, a business can get on track to compliance. Although “hazardous waste” encompasses a virtually limitless number of substances, which can result from an equally vast range of operations, the basic outline of a successful approach to compliance remains the same: First, every business must determine whether it is a generator of hazardous waste. Second, it must quantify the amount generated on a calendar month basis. Third, it must determine its generator category (based on its monthly total). Fourth, it must identify and comply with the applicable regulatory requirements (based on its generator category). These steps are discussed in turn below.
Identify your hazardous waste: To be a hazardous waste, a substance must meet a two step test of being both a “waste” and “hazardous.” The relevant definition of waste is a broad one that includes any material destined for disposal, recycled in certain ways, or “inherently waste-like.” A waste will be a hazardous if it is either “listed” or “characteristic.” There are over 500 hazardous wastes contained in various lists within the federal regulations. Some listed hazardous wastes are common process wastes from generic sources, such as spent solvents from parts cleaning. Some are industry-specific wastes from specific sources, such as distillation bottoms from various organic chemical production processes. Still others are pesticide and pharmaceutical products. Characteristic wastes are those meeting the definition of at least one of the four following characteristics: ignitability (low flash point or spontaneously combustible), corrosivity (strong acid or base or capable of corroding metal), reactivity (unstable when heated, compressed, or mixed with water), or toxicity (as determined through the Toxicity Characteristics Leaching Procedure, a laboratory test designed to identify substances likely to leach into ground water in harmful concentrations). Additionally, any of those wastes described in the regulations as “acutely hazardous” must be identified.
Quantify your hazardous waste: The total weight of hazardous waste and acutely hazardous waste generated in each calendar month must be tallied, because the hazardous waste generator category is determined from these numbers on a calendar month basis. Volumes of liquid hazardous wastes must be converted into weights, because the generator categories are defined in terms of weight not volume. Certain hazardous wastes known as “universal wastes” do not count toward generator status. Universal wastes are common, recyclable, relatively self-contained items such as mercury switches and fluorescent lamps. Universal wastes have their own unique requirements pertaining to employee training, handling, storage, and accumulation time. Certain wastes such as scrap metal and used oil may not count toward generator status depending on how they are managed. Also, computer and other electronic equipment that would otherwise be considered hazardous (such as cathode ray tube monitors and circuit boards containing lead) can be managed to avoid counting toward generator status.