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What are the Main Objectives of Hazardous Waste Management

April 14, 2021

If you’re a cynic, you might say that the main objectives of hazardous waste management are avoiding fines and staying out of jail: worthwhile goals, to be sure. 

But when talking to the press, better you should say that you’re dedicated to hazardous waste management to protect human health & safety; minimize waste and its disposal; and only lastly, to be in regulatory compliance, which means—of course—avoiding files and staying out of jail.

Consider: Sins against the RCRA can cost you $76,764 per day. As to the Clean Air Act, “reporting and recordkeeping violations” can go for as much as $45,268 per day. And Clean Water Act civil penalties can be up to $16,000 per day of violation, with a maximum cap of $187,500 in any single enforcement action.

So, what is a hazardous waste?

You might think this is a straightforward question that would have an equally straightforward answer. But as in all things regarding hazardous waste management (in general) and the EPA (in specific), nothing is straightforward, which is why it’s important to get expert advice.  

To begin with, you’re under much greater scrutiny if you’re a commercial or industrial enterprise. In other words, while you might get away with throwing away hazardous waste into the trash at home, the same garbage can get you into Big Trouble at your store, clinic, or factory.

Also bear in mind that many seemingly benign things you need to throw away are considered a hazardous waste by the EPA or—more probably—by some state or local authority, as they typically have stricter regulations overriding their federal counterparts. 

For example, such innocuous goods as nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, liquor, and vitamins require hazardous waste disposal per the EPA once they’re older than the date stamped on the label. But wait! There’s more!

E-waste requires hazardous waste removal

Consider electronic trash, aka E-waste. Per the EPA, E-waste includes but isn’t limited to TVs, computer monitors, printers, scanners, keyboards, mice, cables, circuit boards, lamps, fluorescent tubes, clocks, flashlights, calculators, phones, answering machines, digital/video cameras, radios, VCRs, DVD players, and MP3 or CD players. 

Used-up vaping cartridges also require hazardous waste disposal

Although it might not occur to you, expended “vape” cartridges also require hazardous waste disposal. Their residual contents are a threat to pets and wildlife, should the leftover nicotine find its way into the environment. 

And they’re not good for kids either, who might find the expended cartridges and play with them. Thus, for commercial and industrial enterprises, many jurisdictions stipulate that any discarded waste with any concentration of nicotine requires hazardous waste management.  

Is yours such a state? Get expert advice here.

Dude…your weed is a hazmat liability 

And speaking of smoking, if you’re growing medicinal marijuana, since cannabis remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance under federal law, state rules controlling its cultivation can be imposing and onerous, in ways you wouldn’t think, especially concerning hazardous waste management.

For example, though it might not seem intuitive, spent chemicals used to extract THC might themselves require hazardous waste removal. And if you treat them as regular garbage, your waste can be subject to search & seizure—without a warrant—instigating an undoubtedly far out legal nightmare.

Kinds of hazardous waste

There are two kinds of hazardous waste according to the EPA. They are “listed wastes” and “characteristic wastes.”

  • Listed wastes. The EPA maintains two lists of substances that it considers hazardous waste, called the “P” and “U” lists. (Hence, “listed wastes.”) The main difference between the two is their level of risk. Stated succinctly, U-listed wastes are “toxic” and P-listed ones are worse.
  • Characteristic wastes. Wastes that don’t appear on the U or P lists might nonetheless require hazardous waste management due to their “characteristics.” (Hence, “characteristic wastes.”) There are four characteristics, three of which are fairly self-explanatory: ignitability, corrosivity, and toxicity.

The fourth—reactivity—is a bit more esoteric. It’s the tendency of one substance to become ignitable, corrosive, or toxic in the presence of another, meaning that if you dump them into the same barrel, there might be a major remodeling project in your future.

Hazardous substances that are neither listed nor characteristic wastes

Bear in mind, however, that some wastes that don’t conform to technical EPA definitions of hazardous waste might nonetheless be potentially harmful and thereby make hazardous waste removal advisable to avert any unforeseen liabilities. 

For example, if your enterprise is a hospital or clinic, these might be:

And your potential liabilities are not limited to pharmaceuticals. Vials, bags, and protective gear that contain trace quantities of toxic substances must be properly managed, along with spilled liquids and pills, and even packaging.

Did we mention the need to get expert advice?

Cradle-to-grave considerations for hazardous waste management

Remember that, per the EPA, you’re responsible for any hazardous waste you “generate” from “cradle-to-grave.” This includes its generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal.

Thereby, you’re not only accountable for a hazardous waste from the moment it’s generated; you’re also legally responsible for its safe transportation to wherever it will be ultimately processed or disposed of.

Or another way to look at it: Once you’ve generated a hazardous waste, there’s no way to rid yourself of complete responsibility for it.  

You’ll be culpable for any improper off site transportation and disposal—should such a thing happen—along with all the legal and financial liabilities thereto, not to mention the public-relations nightmare that goes along with being labeled a “polluter.”  

So what else could happen?

Mishandling hazardous waste—guilty or innocent—can expose you to a myriad of bad outcomes. You can be fined for:

  • Failing to “permit” your enterprise as a VSQG, SQG, or LQG
  • Improper storage of hazmat
  • Labeling or otherwise marking hazmat containers improperly
  • Transporting hazmat without a proper manifest
  • Failing to report and track exports of hazmat

Safe & legal disposal: your ultimate goal

Once your hazardous wastes are properly identified, categorized, and separated, you must ensure that they’re transported to the correct category of waste disposal facility. Remember: there are chemical wastes vs. biological wastes vs. corrosive wastes vs. reactive wastes, etc., and different facilities are “permitted” to accept them—and some definitely aren’t.

The upshot

Regulatory hurdles for hazardous waste disposal are numerous and complicated, and ignoring them can be expensive, time-consuming, and even criminal. Don’t take chances. Get friendly expert advice—even if you only think you have a hazardous waste issue. 

And thank you for reading our blog!

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