When evaluating a new waste stream, generators ask themselves a crucially important question: Is this waste a hazardous
A facility must know if its waste is hazardous so that they can manage it properly, keep it out of the environment, and train employees
to safely handle it. The initial hazardous waste determination also decides how the waste will be treated and disposed of.
Any waste that is or ever was
a hazardous waste is restricted from land disposal unless it meets certain standards called Land Disposal Restrictions or LDRs.
What is a Hazardous Waste?
US EPA defines a hazardous waste as a solid waste that is listed in the RCRA regulations and/or exhibits one or more hazardous waste characteristics—ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity—and is not otherwise excluded.
The regulations at 40 CFR 262.11(g) tell us:
If the waste is determined to be hazardous, small quantity generators and large quantity generators must identify all applicable EPA hazardous waste numbers (EPA hazardous waste codes) …
A RCRA waste code is an alphanumeric indicator (e.g., F005, D032) that corresponds to a specific treatment standard that must be met before the waste can be disposed of.
(Pictured: Excerpt of the Treatment Standards for Hazardous Waste Table at 40 CFR 268.40, available in Lion’s RCRA Compliance Reference Desk Set, provided when you attended the RCRA Hazardous Waste Management Workshop.)
Hazardous waste may not be disposed of until it is treated using a specified technology or until its hazardous constituents are brought below threshold levels specified for each waste code.
Was it Ever a Hazardous Waste?
Now we know what it means when we say something is a hazardous waste.
But what do we mean when we say that LDRs also apply to anything that was a hazardous waste? How can a waste be a hazardous waste one minute and not hazardous the next?
Two of the most common reasons include:
1. If a hazardous waste is released from its tank or container, the cleanup might include treating the spill with chemicals or absorbents. This can change the properties of the waste. If the waste no longer exhibits a hazardous waste characteristic after the spill cleanup, it is no longer a hazardous waste.
2. A generator might treat a hazardous waste onsite, making it no longer hazardous. A simple example of this is elementary neutralization: The generator adds an acid or base to a corrosive waste (waste code D002) so that it is no longer corrosive enough to be a hazardous waste.
In both scenarios, the waste was a hazardous waste before the generator’s actions. Because the waste was a hazardous waste, it must be treated to meet Land Disposal Restrictions for each waste code that was assigned when the waste was generated.
Why RCRA Waste Codes Stick
Why do waste codes still matter if our waste is non-hazardous?
First, the Land Disposal Restrictions are exacting. Although the waste may no longer be a hazardous waste because it no longer exhibits a hazardous waste characteristic, it must meet the LDR treatment standards for the original waste code.
A second reason is underlying hazardous constituents or UHCs. Wastes may contain constituents like heavy metals that, even at low concentrations, must be treated for before the waste can be disposed of.
Example: While elementary neutralization does meet the required treatment standard, what if you had a D002 (corrosivity) waste that spilled and was cleaned up with enough absorbent to sop up all the liquid? In both scenarios, the waste no longer meets the definition of corrosivity at §261.22, so it is no longer a hazardous waste. However, in the spill cleanup scenario, the treatment standard at 40 CFR 268.40 is not “throw granular ‘kitty litter type’ absorbent on the waste.” It is “DEACT” as specified in Appendix VI to Part 268.
Also, in both cases (purposeful elementary neutralization or spill cleanup) the treatment standard for the original D002 says, “and meet §268.48 standards” which means the waste still must be treated for “underlying hazardous constituents” if they are present and at high enough levels.
Master the RCRA LDRs
Lion’s unique Land Disposal Restrictions Online Course guides hazardous waste professionals through the complex RCRA LDRs to ensure hazardous waste is disposed of the right way.
Demystify these restrictions and be confident you can select appropriate RCRA treatment and disposal methods for your regulated waste streams. Proper disposal is crucial to prevent environmental contamination, civil penalties from US EPA, and future liability under CERCLA/Superfund.