One of the biggest challenges in waste management is staying compliant with the state and federal regulations that govern the generation, transport, treatment, storage, and disposal of waste. The myriad regulations governing compliance for these operations, especially hazardous waste compliance, can become a tangle that even experienced facilities find challenging.
Fortunately, a professional waste management company can help you navigate waste management rules. Below, we’ll give an overview of hazardous and nonhazardous waste, discuss the requirements of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Hazard Communication Standard, explain how experts evaluate compliance and offer suggestions on how a professional waste management company can ensure your facility’s compliance and help it meet sustainability goals.
Understanding Your Waste — Hazardous vs. Nonhazardous
Industrial and commercial waste falls into two general categories: hazardous and nonhazardous.
Hazardous waste is waste that poses an immediate threat to humans or the environment if improperly disposed of. Hazardous waste is addressed under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which allows the EPA tight control over the entire lifespan of hazardous waste.
A hazardous waste material may appear on any of the EPA’s four specific lists of hazardous wastes:
- F list: The F list identifies non-source-specific hazardous wastes, such as spent solvent wastes, metal finishing wastes, wood-preserving wastes and petroleum refinery wastewater treatment sludge, from various manufacturing and industrial operations.
- K list: The K list identifies source-specific hazardous wastes, such as those from chemical manufacturing, pesticide manufacturing, explosives manufacturing and secondary lead processing.
- P list: The P list designates acute hazardous wastes among pure, commercial-grade unused chemicals. Acute hazardous wastes, such as strychnine, cyanide and nicotine, are those that are toxic even at low doses or when properly managed.
- U List:The U list identifies nonacute hazardous wastes, such as acetone, DDT and formaldehyde, from among pure, commercial-grade, unused chemicals.
Waste may also be classified as characteristic hazardous waste if it exhibits any one of four specific qualities: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity or toxicity.
Some other examples of hazardous waste include weedkillers, pesticides, fluorescent light bulbs, industrial cleaners, propane, acetylene, battery acid, lithium-sulfur batteries, and medical wastes such as cultures and human tissues.
Nonhazardous waste, by contrast, does not pose an immediate threat to humans or the environment, though it poses certain risks that prevent it from being dumped indiscriminately. It is addressed under Subtitle D of the RCRA.
Some examples of nonhazardous waste include the following:
- Agricultural wastes like manure and animal bedding
- Batteries that do not contain mercury, cadmium or lithium
- Construction debris like wood, glass and metal
- Household items like furniture, electronics and appliances
- Scrap materials such as tires
- Special wastes like crude oil and natural gas wastes and fossil fuel combustion wastes, which the EPA currently deems nonhazardous but has also designated for further review
The regulation of nonhazardous waste, unlike the regulation of hazardous waste, is generally left to individual states.
Do I Need a Waste Management Provider?
You may be wondering whether you truly need a waste management provider — couldn’t you deal with your facility’s waste yourself? But processing waste is more complicated than merely throwing it into a dumpster or hauling it to a landfill. Many types of waste must go to specialized landfills and involve specific, rigorous handling procedures to keep employees and the public safe and healthy.
Working with a waste management provider helps meet a few different needs:
- Ensuring compliance: EPA regulations are meticulous and exacting, and it’s easy to overlook something, especially when compliance is only a small part of your daily demands. A professional waste management provider is experienced and thoroughly familiar with waste management regulations, so you’ll gain the peace of mind of knowing your waste disposal methods are compliant with the law.
- Specializing by industry: A professional waste management provider can provide specialized management services by industry, including manufacturing waste services, construction waste disposal and removal, pharmaceutical waste services, waste oil and gas recycling services, marine waste management services and more.
- Providing sustainability assistance: A processional waste management provider can consult with a facility about creating and meeting sustainability goals, including waste reduction and reuse and recycling goals.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — a Breakdown
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was enacted on October 21, 1976, and is overseen by the Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery (ORCR). It effectively amended the Solid Waste Disposal Act, which Congress had enacted in 1965. Through the RCRA, the EPA set four main national goals:
- Protecting human health and the environment from the harmful effects of hazardous waste disposal
- Conserving natural resources and energy
- Reducing the generation of waste
- Providing for environmentally friendly waste management practices
Summary of the RCRA
The RCRA gives the EPA authority over hazardous waste from creation to disposal. The RCRA governs several different processes hazardous waste may undergo, including its generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal. The RCRA also outlines procedures for dealing with nonsolid hazardous wastes.
In 1984, the RCRA gained two new amendments. These amendments, known as the Federal Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments (HSWA), focus on sustainability. They call for minimizing the generation of waste, decreasing landfill use, and implementing fines and punishments for improper waste disposal. They also create stricter standards for the handling of hazardous waste, allow the EPA to address the environmental concerns associated with storing petroleum and other hazardous waste in underground tanks, and give the EPA increased authority to enforce its regulations.
The RCRA has several separate programs. Three key programs are the solid waste program, the hazardous waste program and the underground storage tank program:
- Solid waste program: The RCRA’s solid waste program, governed under Subtitle D, supports states in developing plans to handle nonhazardous solid industrial and municipal waste. It sets regulations for industrial and municipal solid waste landfills, and it bans the illegal dumping of solid waste. Subtitle D also sets minimal criteria for the operation of industrial and municipal landfills. These criteria govern location restrictions, design requirements, corrective actions via cleanup, financial assistance and closure requirements. States are free to set more stringent requirements than the federal regulations.
- Hazardous waste program: The hazardous waste program, governed under Subtitle C, provides a comprehensive system for monitoring and managing hazardous waste for the entirety of its lifespan. State programs can implement provisions of the hazardous waste program, but in the absence of state programs, the EPA regulates the state’s hazardous waste program directly. The regulations under Subtitle C establish criteria for hazardous waste generators, transporters, and treatment, storage and disposal facilities. These criteria also cover permitting requirements, regulation enforcement and cleanup protocols.
- Underground storage tank (UST) program: The underground storage tank program allows the EPA to regulate underground storage tanks filled with hazardous materials and petroleum products. The program has several requirements, including operation and maintenance requirements, operator training requirements, containment requirements for new and replacement tanks and piping, and requirements for ensuring compatibility before storing some biofuels.
The Four Requirements of the Hazard Communication Standard
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created the Hazard Communication Standard to compel facilities that handle hazardous waste to meet specific requirements in their workspaces.
1. Ensure Proper Chemical Labeling
Facilities that handle hazardous waste are required to ensure the proper labeling of all chemicals used in the facility, even chemicals that are not themselves hazardous. Containers of hazardous chemicals must be marked with the identity of the substance and the appropriate hazard warnings. Chemical manufacturers and distributors must additionally ensure every container that leaves the facility is appropriately labeled with the chemical’s identity, the correct hazard warnings, and the name and address of the manufacturer.
If the facility transfers the chemical from one labeled container to another container, the facility must label the new container with the required information — unless the container is portable and, therefore, exempt from this requirement.
The most essential part of the label is the identity of the substance in question, which may be a trade name or a chemical formula. This name should appear on the label, as well as on the associated material safety data sheet and the facility’s list of chemicals. The hazard warning should be a succinct description of the hazardous effects of the chemical, such as “flammable,” “fatal if swallowed,” “poisonous if inhaled,” etc.
2. Provide Safety Data Sheets
OSHA also requires facilities that handle hazardous waste to provide a material safety data sheet (SDS) for each substance. Employers must provide an SDS for each substance they use, and distributors must provide one for each product that leaves the facility.
The SDS lays out rigorously detailed information on the chemical in question, including its physical and chemical properties, its potential hazardous effects and guidelines for protective measures against those effects.
When employees are working, SDSs must be accessible at all times so workers can easily consult them. To comply with this requirement, some facilities keep their SDSs in a binder in a central location. Others provide their SDSs in a digital format that employees can access from many different workstations.
Compliance officers evaluating SDS protocols will check to see that the following information is available in written form:
- The name of the person who is responsible for obtaining and maintaining SDSs
- How and where the SDSs are stored in the workplace and how employees can access them
- Procedures to follow when the facility does not receive SDSs with a shipment of a chemical
- For production facilities, procedures for updating the SDSs when new health or safety information comes to light
- Descriptions of alternatives to SDSs if the facility uses alternative information
3. Train Employees
The Hazard Communication Standard additionally requires facilities that handle hazardous materials to train their employees on safe practices. Every employee who may be exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplace, whether through ingestion, inhalation, absorption or skin contact, must receive thorough training before beginning work. Employees must also receive training if they begin working with a new chemical or the hazard of a particular chemical changes.
Even though employees have access to written material in the SDSs, in-person training is essential. Training helps employees learn how to read chemical safety information, and it helps ensure that they understand and can apply what they have learned.
Providing an interactive training environment that encourages employees to ask questions also helps promote genuine comprehension. If employees understand why specific protocols are in place, they will be much more likely to follow them and to bring lapses in protocol to managers’ attention. They will also become proficient in handling and storing hazardous materials safely, and their proficiency will minimize the likelihood of serious accidents and injuries in the workplace.
When facilities are creating written records of their training programs, they should consider including the following information:
- Name of the person responsible for training
- Format of the training (PowerPoint slides, oral presentations, etc.)
- Specific elements of the training program
- Specific procedures for training new employees before they begin work around hazardous chemicals, as well as specific procedures for training current employees on new hazards in the workplace
When compliance officers visit a facility, they will also want to receive answers to the following questions:
- Does a central location, or each work area, contain a list of the facility’s hazardous chemicals?
- Does the employer have an established method of informing employees of the hazards of new tasks?
- Does the employer inform employees about the hazards associated with chemicals contained in unlabeled containers?
- Does the employer provide information about labeling systems and precautionary measures for its chemicals when employees from other facilities are present?
- Do employees have access to the written program?
4. Create a Written Communication Program
As suggested above, written details about various hazards and protocols in a hazardous waste facility are essential. Facilities that handle hazardous waste must have a written plan that specifies how the facility will communicate information about its hazardous substances and their handling. When OSHA evaluates a workplace for compliance with the Hazard Communication Standard, the first thing the compliance officer will do is likely to request the written plan.
The written plan must do a few different things:
- List the chemicals used in the facility and describe where employees can access written information about them
- Describe how the facility plans to meet labeling, employee training and MSDS requirements
- Indicate the personnel responsible for specific aspects of the plan, such as creating MSDSs and providing employee training
The Penalties for Breaking Waste Disposal Laws
Breaking waste management rules is a serious matter. Improper waste disposal has the potential to inflict catastrophic harm on the public and the environment. Consequently, the EPA has developed both civil and criminal penalties for facilities that fail to comply with its waste disposal regulations.
Types of Enforcement Actions
The EPA can employ a few different types of enforcement actions:
- Civil administrative actions: Civil administrative actions do not involve court proceedings. Instead, the EPA or a designated state authority may provide a notice of violation or an order directing a facility to become compliant or clean up a site. The order may or may not specify the penalties for noncompliance.
- Civil judicial actions: Civil judicial actions involve bringing formal lawsuits. The U.S. Department of Justice files these lawsuits in court on behalf of the EPA against entities that have failed to comply with a statute, regulation or administrative order failed to do cleanup work or failed to pay EPA costs for cleanup of a Superfund site.
- Criminal actions: The EPA or a state authority generally take this route only for the most egregious offenses, especially wilful or knowingly committed infractions. Court convictions in these cases typically result in fines or terms of imprisonment.
Types of Enforcement Results
After the EPA has taken an enforcement action, one of a few different outcomes can result.
1. Civil Enforcement
Civil enforcement typically sees the following results:
- Settlements: With settlements, both parties agree to a resolution, often by signing consent agreements, administrative orders or consent decrees.
- Civil penalties: Facilities must pay civil penalties as restitution for their violations. Civil penalties act as deterrents to noncompliance and also help adjust for any economic benefit to the facility of noncompliance.
- Injunctive relief: A court injunction brings a facility into compliance by requiring it to perform or not perform a particular action.
- Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) and Mitigation: A facility may volunteer to perform beneficial environmental projects known as SEPs as restitution for their infractions. They may also mitigate their violations through injunctive relief designed to offset the harm of those violations.
2. Criminal Enforcement
Criminal enforcement typically produces the following results:
- Criminal penalties: A state or federal judge may impose criminal penalties in the form of fines. In addition to fines, facilities may also have to pay restitution to communities or organizations affected by the infraction.
- Incarceration: A state or federal judge may also impose a term of imprisonment for a serious infraction.
Penalties Under the RCRA
The EPA lays out specific penalties for RCRA noncompliance infractions:
- Treatment, storage or disposal without a permit: If a person knowingly treats, stores or disposes of hazardous waste without a permit, that person will receive five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation. Penalties are doubled for subsequent offenses.
- Treatment, storage or disposal in violation of a permit: If a person knowingly treats, stores or disposes of hazardous waste in violation of a material permit condition — that is, the person has a permit but treats, stores or disposes of hazardous waste in a way the permit does not allow — that person will receive two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation. Penalties are doubled for subsequent offenses.
- Transportation of hazardous waste without a manifest: If a person knowingly transports a hazardous waste or causes a hazardous waste to be transported without a manifest, even though regulations require a manifest, that person will receive two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation. Penalties are doubled for subsequent offenses.
- Transportation to an unpermitted facility: If a person knowingly transports a hazardous waste or causes a hazardous waste to be transported to a facility that does not have a permit for hazardous waste, that person will receive five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation. Penalties are doubled for subsequent offenses.
- RCRA false statement: If a person who owns or operates a source of hazardous waste knowingly omits material information or makes a material false statement in any documents used for compliance with Subtitle C of the RCRA, that person will receive two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation. Penalties are doubled for subsequent offenses.
- Knowing alteration, destruction or concealment of records: If a person stores, generates, transports, exports, disposes of or otherwise handles hazardous waste and knowingly alters, destroys, conceals or fails to file records that Subtitle C requires to be maintained or filed, that person will receive five years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation. Penalties are doubled for subsequent offenses.
- Knowing endangerment: If a person knowingly treats, stores, transports, exports or disposes of a hazardous waste in violation of regulations and knew that doing so would put another person in danger of imminent death or serious bodily injury, that person will receive 15 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $25,000. An organization can receive a fine of up to $1 million.
- Illegal export of hazardous waste: If a person wilfully exports hazardous waste without consent or in violation of an international agreement, that person will receive five years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $50,000 per day of violation. Penalties are doubled for subsequent violations.
How Waste Disposal Experts Ensure Compliance
Waste disposal experts ensure compliance by developing compliance monitoring programs and sending personnel to inspect facilities, report violations and help build civil or criminal cases when necessary.
The RCRA has a compliance monitoring program designed to ensure that facilities follow its statutes and regulations. States and local authorities carry out much of the compliance monitoring program, though the EPA provides oversight to ensure proper inspection.
Compliance monitoring, often via EPA or state inspections, involves different reviews for different applications.
Compliance Monitoring for Hazardous Waste
Hazardous waste compliance monitoring includes several different components:
- Compliance evaluation inspection: At the on-site compliance evaluation inspection, inspectors will evaluate the facility’s compliance with RCRA regulations and permits. Inspectors may observe the facility’s activities, identify the types of wastes managed on-site, review records and reports, examine documents and on-site plans and identify and assess any units that generate, store, treat or dispose of hazardous waste.
- Compliance sampling inspection: Sometimes, EPA personnel deem it necessary to take samples for further evaluation in the lab. In these cases, the sampling protocols and lab analyses must be planned and coordinated in advance. Compliance sampling inspections often take place in conjunction with compliance evaluation inspections or other inspections.
- Comprehensive groundwater monitoring evaluation: A hydrogeologist performs this type of evaluation, which assesses a facility’s design and operation to make sure its groundwater monitoring system is effective. The hydrogeologist typically reviews the characteristics of the hydrogeology beneath the hazardous waste tanks and assesses well placement, spacing, design, construction, and depth. The assessment may also include a thorough evaluation of the facility’s monitoring plan and the plan’s execution.
- Case development inspection: A case development inspection is an intensive review designed to gather evidence to support enforcement procedures if the facility is not in compliance with regulations. It is often used to collect data in support of an enforcement action set in motion by the findings of a compliance evaluation inspection, a comprehensive groundwater monitoring evaluation, an operation and maintenance inspection or a review of records.
- Operation and maintenance inspection: An operation and maintenance inspection is a regularly occurring inspection that assesses a groundwater monitoring system and whether or not it continues to function as originally designed. This inspection focuses on a facility’s wells and their sampling devices. The findings from this inspection often inform and lay the groundwork for future comprehensive groundwater monitoring evaluations.
- Information gathering: The EPA sometimes engages in information gathering under Section 3007 instead of conducting a formal inspection. It can request information from facilities, as well as from specific personnel who handled waste. Typically, the EPA makes the information it gathers available to the general public, though facilities can request that the findings be treated as confidential business information by submitting its report with a cover sheet marked “confidential,” “proprietary information” or “trade secret.” The EPA makes the final determination of how to treat the information submitted in this way.
Similar compliance monitoring programs exist for used oil, universal wastes, mixed wastes, land disposal, hazardous waste injection, hazardous waste imports and exports, permitting programs, underground storage tanks and solid waste:
- Used oil: Used oil is regulated as hazardous waste when it becomes contaminated with physical or chemical impurities after use. Compliance monitoring for used oil involves assessing a facility’s compliance with storage, burning, transportation, processing and re-refining requirements.
- Universal wastes: Universal wastes encompass a variety of different wastes, including batteries, light bulbs, objects containing mercury, pesticides and herbicides. Compliance monitoring for universal waste involves evaluating a facility’s compliance with marking, processing, storage, and transportation requirements.
- Mixed wastes: Mixed wastes contain a mixture of hazardous and radioactive materials. Some of these wastes are exempt from the requirements of the RCRA’s Subtitle C governing hazardous wastes but must be managed as radioactive wastes under the requirements of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Compliance monitoring for mixed wastes involves evaluating a facility’s compliance with the regulations that apply to hazardous waste transporters, generators and treatment, storage and disposal facilities.
- Land disposal: Land disposal involves placing waste on or into the land, such as in a landfill, waste pile, surface impoundment or land treatment unit. Compliance monitoring for land disposal involves evaluating a facility’s compliance with waste treatment standards and with prohibitions on storage, dilution and disposal.
- Hazardous waste injection: Class I injection wells — those intended for industrial and municipal waste disposal — inject hazardous and nonhazardous wastes into deep rock formations thousands of feet away from sources of drinking water. Most of these wells are located at industrial facilities and they are strictly regulated under the RCRA and the Safe Drinking Water Act. Compliance monitoring of hazardous waste injection wells involves evaluating a facility’s compliance with the regulations governing treatment, storage and disposal facilities.
- Hazardous waste imports and exports: The Hazardous Waste Imports/Exports program requires advance notification of hazardous waste shipments. It also collects export manifests and annual export reports and handles international enforcement actions. Compliance monitoring of hazardous waste imports and exports involves reviewing a facility’s compliance with requirements such as obtaining EPA identification numbers, manifesting, record-keeping and actions taken to address any discharges or spills.
- Permitting program: All hazardous waste generators and transportation, storage and disposal facilities require permits. Compliance monitoring of the permitting program involves evaluating a facility’s compliance with regulations and with its permit requirements.
- Underground storage tanks: The EPA and other regulatory agencies perform regular underground storage tank inspections to enforce compliance with technical standards and ensure corrective actions if a spill or release occurs. Compliance monitoring of underground storage tanks involves evaluating a facility’s reporting and record-keeping as well as assessing a tank’s regulatory compliance, spill and overfill protection, release detection system, corrosion protection system and tank closure system.
- Solid waste: Solid waste is regulated under the RCRA’s Subtitle D governing nonhazardous waste. Compliance monitoring for solid waste involves encouraging states to create plans to manage nonhazardous municipal and industrial solid waste, develop criteria for landfills and other disposal facilities and prohibit open dumping.
What Are the Perks of Effective Waste Management?
Effective waste management offers a number of advantages:
- Keeping people safe and healthy: Effective waste management prevents people from absorbing harmful chemicals through their skin, breathing them in or consuming them in foods or drinking water. In the workplace, proper waste management reduces employees’ risk of illness, injury or death due to hazardous substances and helps keep productivity high. According to the World Health Organization’s Inter-Organization Programme for the Sound Management of Chemicals (IOMC), 25% of workplace deaths result from exposure to toxic substances. Effective waste management reduces the risk of these tragedies.
- Keeping the environment clean: Dumping waste into the ground without proper planning contaminates the environment. Hazardous chemicals can easily leach into the soil and groundwater and wreak havoc on the local ecosystem, Nonhazardous materials like plastics and scrap parts also diminish the health of the environment as they accumulate. Proper waste management confines waste to a controlled area and helps keep the planet green and thriving.
- Preventing catastrophic leakages and spills: Effective waste management also helps diminish the likelihood of a waste-related environmental disaster, such as a spill or leakage of hazardous waste. Although proper waste management procedures require modest investments of resources and time, these investments are minimal compared to the work and financial penalties that would result from a catastrophic release of waste. Effective waste management keeps your facility functioning at a high level with its waste securely contained.
- Improving sustainability practices: Effective waste management offers practical, effective sustainability practices that help facilities reuse or recycle materials and reduce the amount of waste that goes to disposal facilities. Effective practices can also reduce the amount of greenhouses gases a facility generates, such as through waste incineration.
Reaching Sustainability Goals — Why It Matters
Why is sustainability so essential in waste management services? Sustainability is important because it acknowledges that many generations will follow ours, so our practices of use, waste and disposal must remain at levels that keep our planet healthy and habitable for many generations to come. Reaching sustainability goals is crucial for several reasons:
- Keeping waste levels manageable: Today, the world generates about 2.01 billion tons of municipal waste annually, and by 2050 that figure is expected to grow to 3.4 billion tons, more than double the population growth in the same period. And figures for industrial waste are much higher, with the United States alone generating 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste per year. The earth and its delicate ecosystems cannot easily accommodate increasing amounts of waste. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which leaches harmful chemicals and kills marine animals when they ingest plastics or get tangled in nets, is evidence of this fact. Increasing our reuse and recycling efforts helps ease the burden on the environment.
- Supporting environmental justice: The IOMC also reports that waste disproportionately affects disadvantaged communities. People who live in poverty, are members of marginalized groups or are ethnic minorities are more likely to experience the harmful effects of waste disposal, including higher levels of exposure to toxic chemicals. Developing and participating in sustainable waste management practices helps create a more equitable society that offers everyone the opportunity to live in a clean, healthy environment.
- Preserving the environment and curbing climate change:When we dispose of waste, we need new products to take its place. The manufacture of those products, whether they are plastics, petrochemicals or other commodities, often involves the burning of fossil fuels. Burning fossil fuels, of course, produces carbon dioxide emissions that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere — industrial chemistry, for instance, accounts for 14% of all greenhouse emissions. By using sustainable practices to promote reuse and recycling, we reduce the need for more products and lower carbon emissions to help slow climate change.
Partner With ERC for Trusted Compliant Waste Management Solutions
To ensure your facility remains compliant in its practices, work with ERC for commercial waste management. We are a full-service environmental company that can transport and process the wastes produced in heavy-duty operations such as manufacturing and construction. When you work with us, you’ll gain the peace of mind that comes from knowing you are fully compliant with EPA and RCRA regulations. You’ll also know you are doing your part to keep the public healthy and the environment clean.
We are also happy to consult with facilities about their sustainability goals, including reducing landfill waste, processing nonhazardous wastes and recycling residual wastes.
Contact us today to learn more.