A brief summary of the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed revisions to the hazardous waste generator regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (40 CFR Parts 260 through 265, 268, 270, 273, and 279)
The public comment period on the proposed revisions to the hazardous waste management program closed just before the end of 2015. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed these regulations to ”address gaps in the regulations, provide greater flexibility for hazardous waste generators to manage their hazardous waste in a cost-effective and protective manner, and reorganize the hazardous waste generator regulations to make them more user-friendly and thus improve their usability by the regulated community.”
Who is Affected?
The regulations will likely have some impact on all regulated classes of hazardous waste generators:
- the conditionally exempt small quantity generator (CESQG) that generates 100 kilograms (kg) or less of non-acute hazardous waste and/or 1 kg or less of acute hazardous waste in a calendar month;
- a small quantity generator (SQG) that generates more than 100 kg of non-acute hazardous waste but less than 1,000 kg of non-acute hazardous waste and/or 1 kg or less of acute hazardous waste in a calendar month;
- and a large quantity generator (LQG) that generate more than 1,000 kg of non-acute hazardous waste and/or 1 kg or more of acute hazardous waste in a calendar month.
Waste generators are not limited to manufacturing and chemical sites. The rules will have an impact on thousands of commercial and retail establishments that typically produce very small volumes of waste and would be classified as CESQG’s. The EPA estimates that the regulations will have an impact on between 293,000 and 470,000 CESQG facilities, up to 60,000 SQG facilities. and about 14,300 LQG facilities. While LQG’s (typically manufacturing companies and chemical facilities) make up less than 3% of the total number of generators, they are responsible for about 99 percent of the hazardous waste generated in the United States.
The proposed changes are wide ranging and contain many technical corrections as well as more flexible ways to accumulate, store, and transport wastes generated by non-manufacturing and commercial entities. The changes most likely to affect non-manufacturing and smaller generators are where the rule:
- Strengthens the requirement to classify waste streams as either hazardous or not hazardous, and to maintain records to support the classification of each waste stream. This is a significant increase in the amount of information organizations need to retain to demonstrate that all waste streams have been checked and classified.
- Requires re-notification of generator status every two years. The EPA notes that databases on hazardous waste generator activities can become stale and inaccurate over time. Periodic disclosure of hazardous waste activities will allow them to maintain accurate records of facility generator status and the types of waste under management.
- Adds additional labeling requirements and hazard information to existing shipment procedures.
- Recognizes episodic generation of waste volumes that exceed the regulatory threshold. This is a significant change that recognizes the unpredictable nature of some business’s waste generation rates. Once a year a SQG or CESQG could exceed the respective regulatory generation limits of 1,000 kg and 100 kg, respectively, without being required to move into a higher category.
- Allows CESQGs to send hazardous waste to LQGs that are under control of the same parent entity. This change would allow generators to operate “take back” or “reverse distribution” facilities. According to the EPA, the “proposed change has the potential to reduce operating costs to the company, reduce environmental liability, increase recycling and reduce the amount of hazardous waste being sent to municipal solid waste landfills.”
- Revises the regulations for labeling and marking of containers, tanks, drip pads, and containment buildings when accumulating hazardous wastes to include specific hazards of the contents and the risks the wastes might pose to human health and the environment. The intent is to communicate to employees, transporters, downstream handlers, emergency personnel, and agency personnel as much information as possible about potential exposure hazards. Any one of the existing hazard communications methods used by DOT or OSHA would be acceptable under the new rule.
- Updates and clarifies the preparedness, prevention, planning and emergency procedure provisions for SQGs and LQGs to include more interaction with the local emergency planning committee.
The comment period is closed. The EPA will review comments and expects to issue final regulations by September 2016.
Turning Change into Opportunity
The proposed regulations attempt to resolve issues at smaller and/or non-manufacturing facilities where the on-site experience in dealing with hazardous wastes and chemical compounds may be limited. In order to enjoy the maximum benefit of these updated standards, CESQGs and SQGs will need to make some operational adjustments and implement new notification, training, record keeping, and reporting practices. A business that embraces these changes and develops cost-effective management systems for integrated waste management could find itself at a competitive advantage.