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What is Hazardous Waste and Which Government Agencies Want to Know if You Have it?

June 18, 2019

If you’re doing something that’s resulting in a big pile of almost anything accumulating in your waste pile, there’s a good chance that “something” is considered a hazardous waste by one or another federal agency.

You’re being watched—closely and by many government agencies

Consider: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the disposal of substances with environmental impact; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulates potential employee exposure to hazardous substances.

As well, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) concerns itself with workplace products that can impact public health; and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) regulates the disposal of controlled substances.

Add to that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) if radioactivity is suspected; the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in matters of getting the waste from here to there; and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Ignorance of the law is not an excuse.

Unfortunately, there needn’t be criminal intent to make trouble for yourself.

Running afoul of EPA regulations under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) (innocently or otherwise) can net you a fine of up to $70,117 per day per violation. Violations under the Clean Air Act have a $93,759 ceiling; and those under the Clean Water Act are as high as $51,570.

Violations under the Safe Drinking Water Act; Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act; and/or Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act run as high as $53,907. And then there’s the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act—a relative bargain at $18,750.

So what exactly is a hazardous waste?

Since 1970 when the EPA began, the answer has been a moving target. The EPA has a helpful white paper (or “module” in EPA parlance) that explains some of it. It offers in part:

“Proper identification of a hazardous waste can be a difficult and confusing task, as the RCRA regulations establish a complex definition of the term ‘hazardous waste.’ To help make sense of what is and is not a hazardous waste, this module presents the steps involved in the process of identifying, or ‘characterizing,’ a hazardous waste.”

“After reading this module, you will be able to explain the hazardous waste identification process and the definition of hazardous waste, and be familiar with the following concepts: hazardous waste listings, hazardous waste characteristics, the ‘mixture’ and ‘derived-from’ rules, the ‘contained-in’ policy, (and) the Hazardous Waste Identification Rules (HWIR).”

Well maybe. But in the interim, remember that the EPA might consider as a “hazardous substance” any number of wastes reasonably definable under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, the RCRA, or the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA.)

Bungled hazardous waste management can destroy your bottom line—and your brand equity.

A waste that you might regard as an innocent “tossable” might be considered an environmental pariah by one or more of a myriad of federal agencies, and under a growing number of legal acts. Consider this headline:

Whole Foods Reaches $3.5 Million Hazardous Waste Settlement

It appeared in hundreds of news outlets September 2016. Whole Foods strives to make environmental sustainability a major constituent of its brand image. Such values logically correlate with their target customers, who prefer additive-free “whole food” that is minimally processed or refined.

The company agreed to the settlement with the EPA regarding how they disposed of customer returns and out-of-date products that were no longer shelf-worthy. These included such innocuous goods as nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, liquor, vitamins, and other products that the EPA classifies as hazardous waste once they can no longer be used for their intended purpose.

There was no criminal intent. Nonetheless, along with a sizeable fine, there was significant damage to the Whole Foods brand image—especially since the settlement tossed the ecologically self-conscious company into the same shopping cart with Wal-Mart, which perpetrated a similar brand fiasco upon itself some years prior.

What else can go wrong?

Obviously, hazardous waste needn’t be the byproduct of a manufacturing, industrial, or commercial process.

If your waste stream even incidentally includes motor oil, electronics, paints, batteries, light bulbs, defunct smoke detectors, discarded thermometers, spent “vape” cartridges, medical marijuana waste, old electrical transformer parts, dental amalgam, and other seemingly innocuous garbage—you should consider getting expert advice on how to dispose of that waste with full EPA compliance.

For fully compliant hazardous waste disposal services call Hazardous Waste Experts at (800) 936-2311 or click here to email us.

The featured image used in this post was taken by Airman 1st Class Daniel Blackwell at the Shaw Air Force Base and can be viewed here.

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