How to Comply with RCRA When Things Don't Go As Planned

Posted on 3/30/2020 by Roseanne Bottone

So far in 2020, we’ve all had an unexpected object lesson in how our best-laid plans can be wrecked by circumstances completely out of our control. While the current public health crisis is unprecedented, occasional hiccups, slow-downs, delays, and other complications are unavoidable in industry, and in life.
When you manage hazardous waste, these complications can impact your ability to comply with the RCRA regulations. For instance, facilities must comply with strict time limits for storage: Large quantity generators operating without a permit may store RCRA hazardous wastes on site for 90 days. Small quantity generators are generally limited to 180 days. Universal waste may be stored onsite for up to a year.
Plan A, obviously, is to manage your site's hazardous waste in full compliance with RCRA. But in the midst of an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many facilities are experiencing a disruption in normal operations. So, let’s talk about some options you can explore if you need to store waste beyond the 90- or 180-day limit during this unprecedented emergency. Let's talk about Plan B. 

Three Ways to Get More Time

30-day Extension. A provision for a 30-day extension in the event of unforeseen, temporary and uncontrollable circumstances is built right into the regulations. See 40 CFR 262.16 (d) and 262.17(b).
This extension may be granted on a case-by-case basis. You must ask permission before your time limit expires.
270-day option for SQGs. Small quantity generators who ship their hazardous waste more than 200 miles away may store their hazardous waste onsite for up to 270 days. (See 40 CFR 262.16 (b) and (c)). Even if there’s a TSDF closer by, the EPA allows you to choose the best TSDF available for your wastes. You may incur added shipping costs for the long distance, but this will allow you an automatic time extension. You do not have to request special permission.
There is an important caveat; small quantity generators may never accumulate more than 6,000 kg of hazardous waste (or 1 kg of acute hazardous waste) onsite at any one time.
The satellite exemption. Can you take advantage of the “satellite” exemption at 40 CFR 262.15? This management option allows you to store up to 55 gallons of non-acute hazardous waste, 1 quart of liquid acute hazardous waste, or 1 kg of solid acute hazardous waste in containers at or near their original point of generation.
Once these quantity limits are exceeded, the generator has three days to begin managing the waste under the small or large quantity exemptions (i.e., the 180- or 90-day rules) or ship it offsite. However, under the Federal regulations there is no time limit to reach those quantities.
Note: While waste accumulated in a satellite area is not subject to the 90- or 180-day storage time limits, this waste does count toward your generator status.

Time Limits for Universal Waste

If you are managing Universal Waste under Part 273, you know you have a one-year time limit for onsite accumulation. However, you may exceed one year if you need more time to accumulate enough to make the waste amenable for recycling. (See 40 CFR 273.15(b) and 273.35(b)).

RCRA Exclusions and Reliefs to Consider

Can your site use an exclusion from the definitions of solid or hazardous wastes to relieve yourself of the RCRA onsite time limits? Check the list of exclusions at 40 CFR 261.4 to see if any fit the bill for your waste.
In addition, the reuse relief at 40 CFR 262.1(e) excludes your waste from the definition of solid waste if it can be used or reused “as is” as an ingredient to make a product, used as a substitute for a product, or returned to the process from which it was generated. If it can be reused in one of these ways, the material would not be a solid waste and, therefore, cannot be a hazardous waste.
That said, you must avoid speculative accumulation as defined at 40 CFR 261.1(c)(8). You must show the material is potentially recyclable and there is a feasible means of doing so. Date the container the material is held in when you store it for recycling. Take inventory on January 1st.
Then, you will have until December 31st of the same year to recycle, or send offsite for recycling, 75% of that quantity.

Waste Exchange Lists and Networks  

To help you find potential outlets for your materials try these waste exchange lists.
Resource Exchange Network for Eliminating Waste (RENEW) is a materials-exchange network for industries, businesses, and governmental units that promotes reclaiming, recycling, and reuse of materials.

The Excess Materials Exchange is a digital facilitated marketplace where your company can exchange any excess materials and products. We function like a dating site: We actively match supply and demand and materials with their highest-value reuse opportunity.

The Southeast Recycling Development Council provides a list of state-specific waste exchanges for eleven southern states.

The Southern Waste Information Exchange is a free service designed to help businesses, industries and other organizations find markets materials they have traditionally discarded for.

Good Management Practices

Unless you are managing unused commercial chemical products in a way where they are abandoned, or you declare them to be a waste, they may be held (generally) indefinitely. Defer laboratory and inventory cleanouts and review your standard operating procedures for wording that gives you maximum flexibility.

Read more: 3 Waste Minimization Strategies for Chemical Products

When All Else Fails

If you anticipate that shipping waste offsite within your small or large quantity generator exemption time limits will be an ongoing problem, you can apply for a RCRA permit to keep your waste onsite for up to one year.
If you need a more immediate, short-term solution, call your State Regional Office to discuss what contingencies they may have in place to help you during a national emergency. Remember to document your conversation – with whom you’ve spoken, date, time and plan of action. If possible, get your agreement in writing.
online RCRA training
Now that you know a few of the options available, you are better prepared for the next situation that causes an unexpected change in plans.

Online RCRA Training

Lion makes it easy to keep your annual RCRA training up to date, even in these difficult times. Get effective, comprehensive hazardous waste training with a self-paced online course or a live webinar at

RCRA Hazardous Waste Management (Online Course) 
RCRA Hazardous Waste Management Refresher (Online Course) 
RCRA Hazardous Waste Management Refresher (Webinar) 

Courses are packed with original graphics, professional narration, and engaging exercises–so you learn by seeing, by hearing, and by doing. When we learn something in multiple ways, we retain more information and are better prepared to apply our knowledge to real world situations.

See all online Lion's RCRA training options at

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