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Identifying and Disposing of Hazardous Waste: Explanations for Small Business Owners

Identifying and Disposing of Hazardous Waste: Explanations for Small Business Owners

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has authority over matters concerning the proper disposal of hazardous waste. But, what exactly is hazardous waste? What is the appropriate form of disposal? What rules or regulations apply to small business owners in particular? If you do not know the answers to these questions, the following information may be helpful.

What is Hazardous Waste?

Under EPA regulatory guidelines, to be considered hazardous any waste must first meet the definition of "solid waste" as defined by the EPA.

  • "Solid waste" does not have the common meaning these words conjure. In fact, "solid" waste under EPA laws and regulations means any solid, liquid, or contained gaseous material that is no longer being used and is either recycled, thrown away, or stored until enough is collected to treat or dispose of it.

If a waste meets the definition of "solid waste" it is considered to be hazardous if:

  • It is one of over 400 wastes included on one of the four lists of hazardous waste as contained in the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations, meaning that it is a "listed waste;" (i.e., it has been shown to be harmful to health and the environment when not properly managed); or

  • It exhibits one of the four defined hazardous waste characteristics, meaning that it is a "characteristic waste." The four hazardous waste characteristics are:

    1. Ignitability (waste that catches on fire easily when exposed to heat, such as solvents, paint wastes, and gasoline);

    2. Corrosivity (waste that "eats" other matter, such as battery acid, caustic paint strippers, and some alkaline or lime-based floor cleaners);

    3. Reactivity (such as certain cyanides or sulfide-bearing wastes or any other waste that is unstable, explosive, or toxic when mixed with water, or another substance or exposed to heat or pressure); or

    4. Toxicity (wastes that are harmful or fatal when ingested or absorbed, such as gasoline and solvents).

    Note: There are some exemptions from the definition of hazardous waste for specific materials that would otherwise meet these criteria.

    Warning: Just because a particular waste is not listed on a RCRA regulations list, that does not necessarily mean it is not included on a state hazardous waste list. Compliance is required with federal and state law for the appropriate jurisdiction.

Once I've Got Hazardous Waste, How Do I Get Rid of It?

There are specific laws and regulations that govern the disposal of hazardous waste, and there are other, separate federal laws that allow for the imposition of criminal penalties if hazardous waste is not disposed of properly. There are also state laws regarding the disposal of hazardous waste that must be followed.

  • The EPA has established three different sets of rules for the disposal of hazardous waste. The rules a particular enterprise or company must comply with depends upon how much waste they "generate." Large quantity generators (LQGs) and small quantity generators (SQGs) have specific rules they must follow. Then, there may be some conditionally exempt small quantity generators (CESQGs) who do not have to comply with hazardous waste management regulations.

  • The majority of business owners fall in the SQG category, which applies to entities generating between 220 and 2,200 pounds of waste per month, or the exempt CESQG category. To be classified as an LQG , the entity must produce more than 2,200 pounds per month, The LQG classification places more stringent storage and disposal requirements on the producing entity.

    As an example of the requirements for storage and disposal of hazardous waste, review the following requirements for SQGs.

    • SQGs must obtain an EPA identification number. However, SQGs are allowed to accumulate hazardous waste on-site for up to 180 days without having to obtain a permit. An extension may be granted if the waste must be transported more than 200 miles away for recovery, treatment, or disposal.

    • SQGs must store their waste in tanks or containers that are properly constructed, labeled, sealed, installed, and maintained. If the waste is stored where it was generated, it is called "satellite accumulated waste."

  • Most hazardous wastes may not be land disposed unless they meet treatment standards as set by the EPA's Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) program. It is the responsibility of the SQG to ensure that any waste that is to be land disposed either be treated to reduce hazardous constituents to a level approved by the EPA, or by using a special, approved technology.

    Warning: If hazardous waste is treated on-site in an unacceptable or unapproved of manner the wrongdoer can face fines up to $50,000 per day of violation and jail time.

  • Other options for waste disposal are recycling and off-site disposal. In some circumstances, waste can be disposed of on-site even though they may be considered hazardous. This is a limited exclusion that allows business owners to essentially "flush" wastes that are mixed with domestic sewage and are discharged to a publicly owned treatment works. The exclusion is commonly called the domestic sewage exclusion (DSE).

    Caution: The DSE is the only acceptable method of on-site hazardous waste disposal, and it is not available in every situation.

  • An addition way to comply with EPA standards and avoid disposal is source reduction or the minimization of hazardous waste in the workplace.

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