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Don't Get Creative with RCRA Waste Markings

Posted on 6/17/2022 by Roger Marks

Recently in Texas, an oil refinery was penalized for a handful of alleged hazardous waste violations. One violation that stands out as especially avoidable concerns the wording used on a container holding universal waste.

Texas allows facilities to manage paint and paint-related wastes as universal waste. Like the Federal RCRA regulations, Texas state rules require marking of containers used to store universal waste. Containers must be marked with specific words. 
In Texas, containers holding universal waste paint and paint-related waste must read:
“Universal Waste - Paint and Paint-Related Wastes”
[30 TAC 335.262(c)(2)(F)]

The following words appeared on the generator’s container, resulting in a violation:
X “Universal Waste - Paint and Paint Waste”

Many would agree that mis-wording the container marking is about as small a violation as there is. But it’s an easy one for an inspector to write up: The regulations require specific words. The generator did not use those specific words. It’s as simple as that.

In Texas, the base penalty for a violation like this is $25,000. In this case, the penalty was reduced by 99% because the violation was so minor. The generator quickly corrected the error.

Additional violations contributed to a larger overall penalty assessment in this case. But imagine if this minor container marking mistake were the only violation on an otherwise perfect inspection. That would sting!


Tips for Training Hazardous Waste Personnel 

Hazardous waste personnel must be trained to perform their jobs in compliance with the RCRA regulations. For employees who will mark universal wastes, that training must include direction on exactly how to mark those wastes.

That training should stress that exact wording is required, and that straying from that wording could result in a costly violation. In addition, periodically checking that these markings are being applied correctly is a good best practice to ensure consistency. 

Secondly, while US EPA provides multiple options for some universal waste markings in 40 CFR 273.14, it can be beneficial to choose one (and only one) to use within the facility for each type of universal waste stored.  

Consider this example. When marking universal waste pesticides, “Universal Waste-Pesticides” and “Waste-Pesticides” are both permitted per 40 CFR 273.14(b)(2) and (c)(2). It is not a violation to use either/or on any given waste or container. 

But if different employees or departments in your organization use different markings, it may cause confusion. If half the waste is marked with “Universal Waste-Pesticides” and the other half with “Waste-Pesticides,” personnel may not recognize that these two statements mean the same thing. This can easily lead to mismanagement and inefficiency.

Lastly, giving personnel multiple choices for marking universal waste may create the mistaken impression that any variation of the required text will be good enough.

Be Exact, Be Consistent

Improperly worded markings are completely and totally avoidable. When you mark a container of universal waste, use the exact words found in the regulation. Don’t write your markings from memory, and don’t get creative. When in doubt—look it up.

The RCRA regulations spell out all acceptable markings for universal waste at 40 CFR 273.14. If your state authorizes you to manage additional wastes as universal waste, knowing where to find the marking rules for those wastes is crucial to ensure compliance.

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Tags: environmental compliance, hazardous waste management, RCRA, universal waste

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