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A Review of the EPA Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule

October 7, 2019

The first major effort in 35 years on the part of the EPA to amend its rules applicable to hazardous materials disposal went into effect on the 30th of May 2017, dubbed with the refreshingly transparent moniker “Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule.”

The Improvement Rule was an attempt by the EPA to simplify some regulations for hazardous waste generators, making them easier to understand, while providing greater flexibility for hazardous waste management.

More specifically, the EPA set about to reorganize and simplify its regulations to render them more user-friendly, ostensibly making them more flexible so that hazardous waste can be managed more economically.

Isn’t that great? Well…not so fast

It’s important to remember that state environmental regulations and regulators, which tend to be stricter, usually trump any federal ones.

As of this writing, 21 states have adopted the Improvement Rule; a gaggle of others intend to get around to it this year or in 2020; and some are still pouting about whether they want to simplify things at all, California and New York conspicuous among them (Surprise! Surprise!).

If you’ve read our blogs before, you know that it’s around this part of the narrative where we usually counsel that expert advice is crucial and you can get some here. But onward…

So how simple are the simplified rules?

Of course, in the Rube Goldberg universe of government administration, the way public agencies go about simplifying things can be exponentially more complicated than the thing they’re trying to simplify in the first place. Consider:

By the EPA’s own account in 2017, the simplified rules featured more than 60 revisions and new provisions that would impact between 424,000 and 677,000 hazardous waste generator locations, affecting virtually all U.S. industries as well as many other commercial and government enterprises. Yowza!

But wait, there’s more!

Carpe diem. The agency also used the opportunity to toughened certain regulations in order to close perceived gaps in environmental protection. For example, the Improvement Rule adds language that dictates:

  • Hazardous waste determination must be “accurate” and done at the point of generation prior to any dilution, mixing, or other alteration.
  • If the properties of a hazardous waste are somehow changed in the course of its management, then the RCRA classification must also be reassessed.
  • SQGs and LQGs must identify all applicable EPA hazardous waste codes and so mark containers prior to shipping.

So again: expert advice is crucial.

So what’s easier—or harder?

Basically, the new Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule includes three main changes:

1. It allows very small quantity generators (VSQGs) producing 100 kilograms or less of hazardous waste per month to ship their waste to a large quantity generator (LQG) under the control of the same company. According to the EPA, this can reduce a company’s operating costs and environmental liability, encourage greater recycling efforts, and reduce the amount of VSQG hazardous waste being sent to municipal solid waste landfills. We hope so.

2. Instead of triggering more stringent generator regulations, it will allow a small quantity generator (SQG) or a very small quantity generator (VSQG) to keep its present generator status in the case of a non-routine event. According to the EPA, this can provide relief if, for example, a company generates an atypical amount of hazardous waste in a single month, as in the case of a product recall.

3. It mandates that additional information be provided about the dangers posed by a hazardous waste when it’s being accumulated onsite; as well as amending regulations about communicating such risks to workers, waste handlers, and emergency responders.

Public Input

In response to public input after its initial proposal, the EPA made several significant changes relative to how it was originally conceived. Some of the most important were:

  • Hazardous waste generators needn’t document all determinations that a waste is not a hazardous waste nor maintain such documentation in its record.
  • Hazardous waste generators needn’t label containers and tanks of hazardous waste with a description of the contents, except for the words “Hazardous Waste,” a description of the dangers posed by the contents, and the date the accumulation started.
  • The timeframe for an event to be considered “episodic” is 60 days.
  • The timeframe for SQG re-notification is changed to every four years starting in 2021 and to September 1 of the year such re-notifications are required.

The Upshot

First of all, you need to make sure that any “improvement” you might want to make in accord with the EPA Improvement Rule doesn’t run afoul of the existing hazardous-waste mandates in your state. I.e., make sure that your state is one of the 21 that’s onboard so far, or will be in the near future.

Equally important: you need to have systems in place that can accurately track the ebb and flow of your hazardous waste management. You can’t do this anymore with just index cards and Postem Notes®. You need hazardous waste management software like the PegEx Platform that manages the entire waste-management lifecycle.

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