How to Use EPA's RCRA Exclusion for Airbag Waste

Posted on 6/7/2021 by Roseanne Bottone

To facilitate the safe return and disposal of defective car airbags, including those impacted by the Takata airbag recall that began in the mid-2010’s, US EPA added a new exclusion to the RCRA hazardous waste regulations nearly three years ago.

Without the exclusion, airbag waste would be subject to full hazardous waste regulation because it typically meets the criteria for being ignitable (D001) and reactive (D003).

To capitalize on the exclusion for airbag waste and comply with RCRA, facilities that handle these products—car dealerships, auto parts retailers, scrap yards, and others—must comply with quantity and accumulation time limitations, management conditions, packaging rules, and documentation requirements.  

What's Covered by the RCRA Airbag Exclusion?

The exclusion at 40 CFR 261.4(j) covers Airbag waste, a term that covers hazardous waste airbag modules and inflators: 
  • At an airbag waste handler's site; and
  • During transport to an airbag waste collection facility or a designated facility. 

Key Definitions for Airbag Waste 

Before we go further, let’s look at some key definitions:

Airbag waste handler means any person, by site, who generates airbag waste that is subject to regulation under this chapter.

Airbag waste collection facility means any facility that receives airbag waste from airbag handlers subject to regulation under §261.4(j) and accumulates the waste for more than ten days.

Where is the RCRA Airbag Exclusion in Effect?

Not every state has adopted EPA’s RCRA exclusion for airbag waste. Check the map below to see if the exclusion for airbag waste is in effect in your state.

airbag waste RCRA exclusion state adoption map

The map above is based on the map US EPA maintains online. It was last updated in March 2021. Check EPA's state adoption map or your state's hazardous waste regulations for the most up-do-date information. 

RCRA Airbag Waste Conditions for Exclusion

While excluded from regulation as a hazardous waste, airbag waste remains subject to requirements for management, packaging, and documentation of off-site shipments, including the following.  

Accumulation Quantity and Time Limits. Airbag waste can be accumulated in a quantity of no more than 250 airbag modules or airbag inflators, for no longer than 180 days.

Packaging and Marking Requirement. The airbag waste must be packaged in a container designed to address the risk posed by the airbag waste and labeled “Airbag Waste-Do Not Reuse.”

Off-site Shipments. Shipments of airbag waste must comply with all applicable US DOT hazmat regulations. That includes providing training for all hazmat employees (Learn more).

Where Can We Send Airbag Waste?

The airbag waste must be sent directly to either:
  1. An airbag waste collection facilityy in the United States under the control of a vehicle manufacturer or their authorized representative, or under the control of an authorized party administering a remedy program in response to a recall under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; or
  2. A designated facility as defined in 40 CFR 260.10 (e.g., a Federal or State RCRA permitted facility or recycler following § 261.6(c)(2)).

Once the airbag waste arrives at an airbag waste collection facility or designated facility, it becomes subject to all applicable hazardous waste regulations. The facility receiving the airbag waste is considered the hazardous waste generator subject to 40 CFR Part 262.

Documenting Off-site Shipments 

The airbag waste handler must maintain records of all off-site shipments of airbag waste and confirmations of receipt from the receiving facility. These records must be kept at the handler facility for at least three (3) years.

At a minimum, the records for each shipment must contain the:
  • Name of the transporter and date of the shipment;
  • Name and address of receiving facility;
  • Type and quantity of airbag waste (i.e., airbag modules or airbag inflators) in the shipment;
  • Confirmations of receipt that include the name and address of the receiving facility; the type and quantity of the airbag waste (i.e., airbag modules and airbag inflators) received; and the date which it was received.
Shipping records and confirmations of receipt must be made available for inspection and may be satisfied by routine business records (e.g., electronic or paper financial records, bills of lading, copies of DOT shipping papers, or electronic confirmations of receipt).

Sham Recycling and Airbag Waste

Reusing defective airbag modules or defective airbag inflators subject to a recall under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in vehicles is considered sham recycling and prohibited under 40 CFR 261.2(g).

DOT Hazmat Training for Auto Parts Shippers

Built for dealerships and auto parts shippers, the Shipping Auto Airbags and Other Safety Devices online course covers the DOT hazardous materials regulations you must know to package, mark, label, and offer car safety devices for ground transport–including airbag modules, airbag inflators, and seatbelt pretensioners.

The course will help satisfy DOT’s hazmat training mandate for employees at 49 CFR 172.704. 

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