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Question of the Week: Determining Generator Status

Posted on 3/22/2011 by James Griffin

If your facility generates hazardous waste, it’s important to count how much you generate each month. The amount of waste you generate determines your “generator status.” And, generator status decides which rules for waste management and disposal apply to you.  The rules for counting hazardous waste are defined at 40 CFR 261.5(c)-(d).

Since 1986 (51 FR 10175, March 24, 1986), there have been three classes of hazardous waste generator.
  • Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQG) ≤ 100 kg/month; ≤ 1 kg/month acutely hazardous waste [40 CFR 261.5(a)-(j)]
  • Small Quantity Generators (SQG) >100, <1,000 kg/month [40 CFR 262.34(d)]
  • Large Quantity Generators (LQG) ≥1,000 kg/month; >1 kg/month acutely hazardous waste [40 CFR 262.34(a)]
One of the questions we hear frequently is: why are the rules for counting hazardous waste hidden inside the standards for CESQGs (261.5 (a)-(j))?

The answer lies in the deep history of RCRA. When the hazardous waste regulations were first codified in 1980 (51 FR 10175, March 24, 1986), the small quantity generator category did not exist. The EPA estimated that facilities which generated less than 1,000 kilograms of hazardous waste per month represented less than 10% of all hazardous waste. Since the EPA’s enforcement resources at the time were limited, the Agency simply made all facilities under the 1,000 kg threshold conditionally exempt from regulation, and required that those generators follow the waste management standards in 261.5. See 45 FR 76618, November 19, 1980.

Under such a scheme, the only generators who really needed to worry about counting their waste were facilities that knew they were near 1,000 kilograms but had not yet counted waste specifically enough to be sure which side of 1,000 they fell on, or those whose waste generation totals varied from month to month. In 1980 this group was mostly auto-shops and miscellaneous craft trades. Having only two types of generator rules meant that when the Agency started fielding questions about which wastes to count, or not count, 261.5 was the most appropriate place to put them, right along the CESQG standards.

When EPA added the category of Small Quantity Generator in 1985, they decided not to move the counting rules to a more central location, most likely because of how involved such a regulatory action would be. This does cause some confusion for people who are new to the regulations and expect to find the counting rules in a section of their own; it’s also an easily-avoidable mistake once you know where to look.

Tags: hazardous, RCRA, waste

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