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Federal and State Regulations on Hazardous Waste

November 11, 2014

The governing body of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its comprehensive Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) legislation regulates all hazardous materials, from the time of its generation to its eventual disposal (or “cradle to grave”). All generators and facilities that manage hazardous waste must be acquainted with these regulations in order to ensure compliance with federal law.

This is especially true for first time generators, who may not fully know these rules, and therefore not know when they could possibly be breaking them.

The EPA provides a wealth of information regarding the proper requirements for treating, storing, disposing, and handling hazardous waste. But it doesn’t always make for the most easily-digestible of reading material.

To further complicate matters, some states have their own regulatory requirements, appending further legal guidelines on how waste is to be governed, in addition to federal laws. What is most important, however, is that these regulations are followed to ensure safety, legality, sustainability, and maximum profitability.

If you are a first time generator of hazardous waste, then some or all of this information may be new to you. But that’s no problem, as we will provide you with all of the resources you will need to help guide you on your way. But even if you’re an older, more seasoned waste company, it doesn’t hurt to brush up on some of the rules to make sure your operations are up-to-date.

EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. -- regulation of hazardous waste

EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Federal Regulations

Let’s start first with the federal guidelines. These are the basic rules that will matter regardless of which state your company is incorporated in. For example, North Dakota has no additional regulations on hazardous materials treatment, but still sticks to the federal RCRA minimum. While, on the other hand, some states that also mirror the federal system may have more rules.

Hazardous Waste Substances and Characteristics

First, it is always pertinent to know what is hazardous waste and what isn’t. The full list of current hazardous substances can be found on the “Listed Wastes” section of the EPA’s website.

Also, some wastes that may not be explicitly listed by the EPA might also be deemed hazardous if they have one of the following characteristics, including,

  • Ignitability,
  • Corrosivity,
  • Reactivity, and
  • Toxicity.

For more details on the exact meaning of each classification, check out our article “Understanding the Four Characteristics of Hazardous Waste.”

Types of Generators

Now that you know what where your waste falls under RCRA’s waste class system, you begin to calculate what type of generator you are based on the three levels provided by the EPA.

Your level will vary upon the monthly amount of waste your company produces overall, such as:

  • A Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator (CESQG) may only generate up to 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of waste per month.
  • A Small Quantity Generator (SQG) produces up to 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms), but no less than 220 pounds (100 kilograms), of hazardous waste per month.
  • A Large Quantity Generator (LQG) generates more than 2,200 pounds (1,000 kilograms) of waste per month.

Additionally, you can more in-depth coverage of the generator topic here.

EPA ID Numbers

Now that you have this these crucial pieces of information out of the way, you will need to get an EPA ID number.

So if you are at least a SQG (meaning your company produces up to 220 pounds of hazardous waste a month) or a TSDF, merely download and fill out EPA form 8700-12 and send it off to your local EPA regional office. They will send you back your unique ID number, which will legally enable you to store, transport, dispose, treat, and handle your hazardous materials.

Your number will most likely stay the same (unless your waste clean up is a one-off operation), and will be site-specific, so you won’t have to worry about changing or updating it unless you move facilities.

EPA Manifests

Once you have an EPA ID number, now can transport your waste to an off-site facility (or receive waste from an on-site generator). The proper procedure for keeping track of the passage of your waste from hand to hand is the EPA’s Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest system.

The Uniform Manifest is a series of multiple-copy forms which each party involved in the transportation, storage, disposal, or treatment of hazardous material must sign off on. From the company that generates the waste to its final disposal facility, each party must have their own signed copy of the manifest for their records. These records must be kept in a safe place, or as they will be needed later on.

The National Biennial Report

The National Biennial Report is the sum total of all the copies of your manifests, plus any data you’ve accumulated on the “nature, quantities, and disposition” of the hazardous waste that has been generated from the prior two years. The report must be submitted at least every even-numbered year, in accordance with federal law (although some states may require annual reporting).

The next report will be due March 1st, 2016 and must be filled out on EPA Form 8700-13A and turned in to your EPA regional office.

LQGs (or if your company generated more than 2,200 pounds of hazardous waste or 2.2 pounds of acute hazardous waste at least once within in a two-year period) and all treatment, storage and, disposal facilities (regardless of generator status) must submit the report.

Your National Biennial Report should include the following information:

  • EPA ID number,
  • All transporters, storage facilities, disposal companies, or recyclers that have handled your waste, and
  • Total volume and descriptions of waste.

State Regulations

States may have their own specific waste regulations as long as they are equivalent to or go above the layer of protection provided by federal regulations. According to the EPA, they may adopt general provisions, and also–provisions for batteries, lamps, mercury, and pesticides.

States may also require annual or biennial reporting of hazardous waste activities for all levels of generators and TSDFs. Some states may also choose to consider an item hazardous which may not otherwise be listed federally as hazardous waste, such as aerosol cans in California and Colorado.

A comprehensive list of which states require different regulatory requirements, and what those requirements are, can be found here.

If you are feeling uneasy about these regulations or you are having trouble figuring out the right way to go about handling or disposing waste in your state, give us a call at 800-936-2311. We’re happy to help in any way.

Photo credit: Coolcaesar at Wikimedia Commons

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