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What are Federal and State Hazardous Waste Regulations?

April 19, 2022

How do you know if your business generates hazardous waste?

What federal EPA regulations deem to be hazardous waste is not always easy to understand. Too much of anything can require hazardous waste management per the agency.

The innocent and/or inadvertent mismanagement of an “RCRA hazardous waste” can (and probably will) expose you to a myriad of state and federal legal sanctions—and the steep fines that accompany them.

Also, in this age of heightened awareness about environmental issues and hazardous waste regulations, mismanagement of your hazardous waste disposal can badly wound your company’s brand image—no matter how innocent you might be.

What is the definition of waste? 

A waste—whether hazardous or not—is any solid, liquid, or contained gas that is burned, incinerated, recycled, or simply disposed of. 

Waste can be a manufacturing byproduct, or simply a commercial product that you use in your business and are disposing of, e.g., cleaning fluid or battery acid. Even materials that can be reused in some way (such as burning solvents for fuel) might be considered waste.

What is the definition of an RCRA hazardous waste?

A waste is deemed hazardous by the EPA if it falls into one of three categories:

Listed wastes. There are more than 500 substances deemed harmful to human health and/or the environment if not managed properly. They are published in the Code of Federal Regulations (40 CFR Part 261) across four separate lists. Ergo, “listed waste.” 

Acutely hazardous wastes. These are listed wastes that are so dangerous as to be fatal even in low doses (E.g. arsenic).

Characteristic wastes. If a specific type of waste doesn’t appear on an EPA list, it might nonetheless be considered hazardous for one or more of its “characteristics.” These are:

  • Ignitability—it catches fire under certain conditions. E.g., certain paints, degreasers, or solvents 
  • Corrosiveness—it’s a significant acid or base. E.g., rust removers, certain cleaning fluids, or battery acid
  • Reactivity—it tends to explode or release toxic fumes if heated, mixed with water, or pressurized. E.g., certain cyanides or sulfide-bearing wastes 
  • Toxicity—it’s harmful or fatal if ingested or absorbed, or leaches into soil or groundwater when disposed of on land. E.g., wastes containing cadmium, lead, or mercury. 

What is hazardous waste management?

Hazardous waste management involves the storage, transportation, treatment, and disposal of wastes that the EPA deems to be listed, characteristically hazardous, or acutely hazardous.

EPA federal regulations for hazardous waste disposal are different depending on what size “hazardous waste generator” the EPA considers you. This is especially relevant to how much hazardous waste you can accumulate onsite in a given month. 

What are the different sizes of hazardous waste generators?

The EPA separates hazardous waste generators into three or four different classes, depending on how you count. These are:

  1. Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator (CESQG)
  2. Very Small Quantity Generator (VSQG)
  3. Small Quantity Generator (SQG)
  4. Large Quantity Generator (LQG)
  1. What is a Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator (CESQG)?

This is an obsolete category that is still often found in hazmat literature. You were considered a CESQG if you generated less than 220 lbs. of hazardous waste per month or less than 2 lbs. of acutely hazardous waste per month. The EPA has effectively folded this category into the VSQG category. (See below.) 

  1. What is a Very Small Quantity Generator (VSQG)?

You’re considered a VSQG if you generate 220 lbs. or less of hazardous waste per month. As such, you can store up to 13,227 lbs. of hazardous waste onsite for up to 180 days without a storage facility permit; or up to 270 days if the waste must be transported more than 200 miles for storage, treatment, disposal, or recycling. A VSQG cannot store more than 13,227 lbs. of hazardous waste onsite at any time.

New rules finalized in November 2021 allow VSQGs to send hazardous waste to an LQG  that is under the control of the same person and consolidate it there before sending it on to management at a TSDF, but certain conditions must be met. 

  1. What is a Small Quantity Generator (SQG)?

You’re considered an SQG if you generate between 2,200 and 22,000 lbs. of hazardous waste per month; or maximally 2 lbs. of acutely hazardous waste per month. No more than 13,200 lbs. of hazardous waste can be held onsite at any one time. 

You can accumulate hazardous waste onsite without a permit for up to 180 days, or up to 270 days if you need to ship it farther than 200 miles from your site. An SQG must have detailed response measures in place in case of an emergency, and at least one designated emergency coordinator available at all times. As an SQG, you must have an EPA Identification Number. 

  1. What is a Large Quantity Generator (LQG)?

You’re considered an LQG if you generate more than 2200 lbs. of hazardous waste per month or more than 2 lbs. of acutely hazardous waste per month.

As an LQG, you must have an EPA Identification Number along with detailed response measures in place in case of an emergency, at least one designated emergency coordinator who is available at all times, and you must submit a biennial hazardous waste report to the EPA. 

What is a treatment, storage, or disposal facility (TSDF)?

A TSDF must meet one or more of the following criteria: 

  1. Be a state- or federally-regulated hazardous waste management, treatment, storage, or disposal facility
  2. Be permitted, licensed, or state-registered to manage municipal or industrial solid waste 
  3. Be an entity that legitimately uses, reuses, or recycles hazardous waste (or treats it prior to use, reuse, or recycling) 
  4. Be a universal waste handler or destination facility subject to the universal waste requirements (per ERA 40 CFR Part 273) 

There are additional requirements, including waste analysis plans, notifications, and certifications. 

Can states make up their own hazardous waste regulations?

Absolutely. Individual states have the power to adopt hazardous waste management regulations that are more stringent than those of the federal government; and individual states can differ from federal guidelines about what constitutes hazardous waste per se, as well as how it should be handled. 

Examples might be an industry-specific waste in a state where that industry is common; or a unique military waste in a state with a large military facility; or where the federal government allows certain waste to be placed in landfills, some states do not. 

Also, different states might have different regulations about “lethality” or “severe toxicity” characteristics when determining if something is a hazardous waste; or they might add to the characteristics already in place per the EPA.

There are other differences:  

  • Some states require annual as opposed to biennial hazardous waste management reports. 
  • Notification of “regulated waste activity” might require state-specific paperwork in lieu of federal forms.
  • Time intervals between required accumulations might be tighter. 
  • Central accumulation areas might be required for “un-permitted” hazmat generators where the EPA requires them only for “permitted” generators.

What is an EPA identification number (EPA ID)?

You’ll need an EPA Identification Number (EPA ID) if your business is classified either as an SQG or LQG. There are several different kinds, and some are only issued at the time an EPA permit is granted.

Also, be aware that many EPA permit programs are administered at the state level. Thus, in many cases, your first point of contact for obtaining an EPA permit and/or EPA ID might be a state agency, not the EPA itself. 

That said, it’s prudent to inquire with any and all of your state agencies about possible permits, regulations, restrictions, etc. that might pertain to your enterprise. You can see a categorical listing list of U.S. Health & Environmental Agencies here.

Why do you need a recommended hazardous waste disposal company?

It can be a full-time job in itself to ensure that a hazardous-waste company is adequately experienced to satisfy both federal and state hazardous waste regulations. This includes their financial integrity, insurance, employee training, as well as proper licensing and “permitting.”

This is especially true in that you might need more than one kind of vendor in order to comprehensively manage your hazardous-waste stream: transporters, storage sites, treatment facilities, etc. 

Hazardous Waste Experts is a technology-enabled waste management service provider. We supply a one-stop solution for hazardous and regulated waste removal, transportation, and disposal.

We offer nationwide coverage and unsurpassed expertise in managing a wide variety of hazardous and off-spec materials that can help you meet your EPA “cradle-to-grave” responsibilities for hazmat removal, transportation, disposal, and recycling.

As in all things involving hazardous waste disposal, you shouldn’t proceed until you get expert advice.

And thank you for reading our blog!

Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.