Recycling, Reusing, and Reclaiming Hazardous Waste

Posted on 2/24/2015 by Roseanne Bottone

EPA's new Definition of Solid Waste Final Rule makes major changes to the recycling provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Understanding the requirements for recycling, reusing, and reclaiming your site's hazardous waste is critical, especially for EHS and shipping professionals who sign the Hazardous Waste Manifest.

When you sign the Manifest, you certify that your site has a program in place to minimize the volume and toxicity of the waste you generate. [40 CFR 262.27(a) or (b)] One major way generators achieve these goals is by taking advantage of the many recycling reliefs found in the RCRA regulations. Knowing when and how you can recycling, reuse, or reclaim your hazardous waste will help you ensure compliance with the waste minimization statement on the Manifest and can benefit your bottom line in many ways.

Less Waste, Fewer Rules

By capitalizing on the RCRA recycling provisions, a generator can find relief from some of the most burdensome EPA management requirements. A large quantity generator (LQG), for example, may be able to minimize waste enough to be categorized as a small quantity generator (SQG).

The SQG management standards, also known as the 180-/270-day rules, are less stringent than the LQG (90-day) rules. For example, SQGs are not required to comply with RCRA air emission standards or to post "no smoking" signs for ignitable or reactive wastes. SQGs enjoy fewer recordkeeping requirements (e.g., biennial reporting, contingency plans, and training plans). Lastly, by generating less hazardous waste, the generator can save time and money by making fewer off-site shipments.

Minimizing waste further can help an SQG achieve conditionally exempt small quantity generator (CESQG) status. As a CESQG, the generator is not subject to the on-site management rules at 40 CFR 262.34 at all. CESQGs are also exempt from manifesting and land disposal restrictions (LDRs) and are not required to use RCRA-permitted facilities for disposal.

On-site Recycling

While recyclable materials are generally excluded from RCRA regulation [40 CFR 261.6], just because you recycle your hazardous waste doesn't mean the waste is "unregulated." However, if a generator can recycle a hazardous waste on site without storing the material first (e.g., piping directly into a distillation unit), then 40 CFR 261.5(c)(3) excludes the material from being counted toward generator status.

Additionally, spent materials that are generated, reclaimed, and subsequently reused on site are not counted toward your generator status a second time (or more), so long as the spent materials were counted once in the same calendar month. [40 CFR 261.5(d)(3)]

Reclamation and New DSW Exclusions

By definition, if a material is not a solid waste, it cannot be a hazardous waste.

40 CFR 261.2(c) excludes three types of secondary materials from the definition of solid waste when they are reclaimed: Characteristic-only by-products, characteristic-only sludges, and commercial chemical products. In addition, a new final rule at 40 CFR 261.4(a)(23),(24), and (27) with an effective date of July 13, 2015 excludes any reclaimed secondary material from the definition of solid waste if the generator meets certain conditions.

There are other exclusions from solid waste at 40 CFR 261.4(a) for certain reclamation scenarios, such as "closed-loop" recycling, using spent sulfuric acid to produce virgin sulfuric acid, and reclaiming values during mineral processing.

Shipping RCRA recyclable materials


With the exception of "inherently waste-like materials," a material that is reused "as is" (i.e., without alteration) either as an ingredient to make a product, as a substitute for a product, or by being returned to the original process from which it was generated is excluded from being a solid waste if the generator meets the conditions of 40 CFR 261.2(e).

Recycling ROI

A generator can calculate the "return on investment" (ROI) for instituting a recycling operation on site. After the initial costs of infrastructure and training personnel, at some point the generator will begin to see savings. Expenses will be reduced for purchasing virgin material, shipping the material off site, and treatment and disposal.

Off-site Recycling

If a material is excluded as a solid/hazardous waste and, therefore, is not required to be shipped using a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest, it may not be a DOT hazmat, reducing premium shipping costs.

Good Will

Depending on the type of material and the form of recycling, a material may or may not be excluded from the definition of solid waste. Even recycling hazardous waste has benefits. Many sites are moving toward a "zero landfill" approach for waste management, meaning minimizing what goes into a landfill or what gets incinerated.

Part of the valuation of a company is "good will" (i.e., the perception the public and investors have of the company.) In addition to saving time and money, being a good environmental steward through hazardous waste recycling can enhance your company's image.

Get Up to Speed With New Recycling Rules

Discover how EPA's revised DSW rule may affect your site's recycling and waste minimization programs at the New Definition of Solid Waste Webinar. Presented live and led by an expert Lion instructor, the one-hour webinar will guide you through the new requirements for generators, changes to the standards for third-party recyclers, and what you must do to keep your RCRA operations in compliance with EPA rules.

Tags: hazardous waste, manifest, RCRA, recycling, waste minimization

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