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What You Should Know About the Concept of Sham Recycling

August 11, 2016

Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes guidelines for the recycling of hazardous waste. These guidelines highlight the difference in what’s considered legitimate recycling versus what is determined to be sham recycling (illegitimate).

So, what exactly is sham recycling? Let’s start by defining what’s legitimate.

Defining Legitimate Recycling

The EPA’s definition of legitimate recycling is based around four factors. These factors state that:

  • Hazardous secondary materials must provide useful contributions to the recycling process or to the recycled products.
  • The recycling process needs to produce valuable products or intermediates.
  • Both the generator and recycler have to manage the secondary material as a valuable commodity when it comes under their control.
  • Products of the recycling process must be comparable to a legitimate product or intermediate, or the recycler must assess, document, and ultimately certify the recycling’s legitimacy.

Hazardous waste regulation under RCRA also makes a distinction between materials that are to be recycled by being used or reused without reclamation, and those that need to be reclaimed prior to being reused.

Materials are considered reclaimed if they’re processed to recover usable products, or if they are regenerated. Common reclamation activities include the recovery of spent solvents like acetone or metals, such as lead.

Now that we know what legitimate recycling is, what exactly is sham recycling?

What is Sham Recycling?

Merriam-Webster’s top definition for the word sham is, “something that is not what it appears to be and that is meant to trick or deceive people”. Upon reading that, it might be easy to come to a conclusion on what sham recycling is.

The EPA says that sham recycling may occur in situations where a secondary material is ineffective—or only marginally effective—for the claimed use, used in excess of the necessary amount, or handled inconsistently with its use as a commercial product substitute or raw material.

Examples of sham recycling are aplenty, but one particular example would be using heavy metal sludges in concrete when said sludges don’t contribute anything significant to the concrete’s properties.

Why Record Keeping Matters

If you’re not already in the good habit of keeping records for most practices at your facility, you should be. Generators should also keep track of all recycling activities, especially if those activities are being used to get relief from regulations. The EPA requires companies to treat reused materials in the same manner as their raw materials and, if generators cannot show proper documentation, sham recycling may be presumed.

Stay Legit

Unless you want to face severe monetary penalties, make sure to always keep your recycling legitimate and steer clear of sham recycling. The benefits of following the proper protocol certainly outweigh the potential of facing fines.

It should also be noted that the sham recycling regulation has been challenged in federal court and a ruling is expected sometime in early 2017. Regardless of the outcome, it’s unlikely the idea of distinguishing what’s legitimate and what’s not will go away completely, making it vital for you to understand the difference and make good practice of it.

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