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How Long Can You Be Storing Hazardous Waste Before You Need a Permit?

January 18, 2021

Did you know there is a set amount of time allowed in storing hazardous waste before you need a permit to do so?

If you’re careful about it, the EPA allows storing hazardous waste onsite for a reasonable period of time without an RCRA permit. Limitations depend upon what kind of hazardous-waste generator the agency deems you to be. There are four possibilities, each with its own ungainly set of initials. From small to large they are:

Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQG)

If you’re a CESQG, you aren’t subject to any specific time limits for storing hazardous waste onsite without a permit, but you can’t accumulate more than 2200 (1,000 kg) of hazardous waste at any time.  And as they say: other restrictions may apply

Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQGs)

Consider yourself a VSQG  if you produce only 220 lbs. (100 kgs) or less of hazardous waste per month. As such, you can store up to 13,227 lbs. (6,000 kg) 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. (6,000 kgs) of hazardous waste onsite at any time.  

Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) 

You’re classified as an SQG if you produce more than 220 lbs. (100 kgs) of hazardous waste per month but less than 2,200 lbs. (1000 kgs). SQGs can store up to 13,227 lbs. (6,000 kg) 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. 

Large Quantity Generators (LGQs)

If you produce 2200 lbs. (1000 kgs) or more of hazardous waste per month, you’re an LQG,  and can accumulate hazardous waste onsite for up to 90 days without a storage facility permit, with no limit to how much. 

Other possible permit exceptions

Storing Hazardous Waste Before You Need a PermitThe EPA deems almost any facet of hazardous waste management as an instance of “treatment,” including any effort to make a hazardous waste non-hazardous or less hazardous. But most pertinent to hazardous waste removal: the EPA also deems any effort on your part to reduce the volume of hazardous waste (to facilitate its storage or transport) as an instance of treatment. 

Nonetheless, there are four specific activities that might not require your securing an EPA treatment permit so long as you comply with a number of “unit-specific requirements” cited in EPA regulation §262.34. (See sidebar.)

  1. Adding absorbents

In the majority of cases, diluting a hazardous waste with another material in order to alter its hazardous “characteristics” is prohibited. E.g., adding solids to a liquid to neutralize its corrosivity and/or ignitability. However, the EPA authorizes the addition of absorbent materials (e.g. granular clay) so long as the absorbent is added to the container in advance of the hazardous waste—or at the earliest stages of its accumulation—not afterward. In any case, be advised that land disposal restriction (LDR) treatment standards will still apply to such “de-characterized” wastes.


  1. Treatments while accumulating  

In addition to adding absorbents, you can (without a treatment permit) use any recognized and approved technique to treat waste while accumulating it (e.g., compacting, filtering, or settling) so long as you comply with all applicable requirements: the tank or container must remain closed except while adding or removing waste; no thermal treatment can be employed that would compromise the integrity of the container or destabilize the contaminant; venting must be provided for any process that releases gas; etc.

  1. Incidental processing

Per the EPA, processing secondary substances such as sludge, incidental byproducts, spent materials, or scrap metal is technical “waste treatment” because it effectively changes their physical form to harvest value or expedites handling. However, the EPA has deemed such “incidental processing” to not be reclamation, and thereby not require a treatment permit. In sum, anything you would do to a virgin ingredient before using it is not considered reclamation when you do the same to a hazardous secondary material that you are using as its substitute.

  1. Disassembling equipment

In some cases the EPA authorizes universal waste handlers to disassemble discarded equipment, without a treatment permit, in order to remove isolate components that themselves might contain hazardous materials. 

For example, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) are made of leaded glass and therefore exhibit the “characteristic” of lead toxicity. Removing a CRT from a discarded television or monitor changes the character of the waste—in this example the TV or monitor itself. The EPA authorizes such disassembly without a treatment permit because the actual target of the hazardous waste removal is the CRT itself, which (once removed) can be managed as hazardous waste.

Similarly, the EPA authorizes universal waste handlers to remove batteries from consumer products, disassemble battery packs, and perform other limited “treatments” because the targets of the hazardous waste removal are the batteries themselves. They can also remove mercury ampoules from thermostats, automotive switches, and electrical relays (or drain mercury from unsealed vessels) for subsequent hazardous waste management—but yet another caveat— there are specific mercury training & management requirements to do so.

Proceed with caution

The 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) directs the EPA to delegate primary responsibility for implementing federal hazardous waste regulations to the individual states. 

This means individual states have the power to adopt hazardous waste storage regulations that are more stringent than those of the federal government—and a number of them have done so. Thus, in matters of hazardous waste management, the face of the EPA is likely that of your state—not the federal government. 

As we’re fond of counseling, it would be a particularly good idea to get expert advice. And you can get the best kind right here

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