In the hazardous waste regulations, U.S. EPA defines “treatment” as “any method, technique, or process, including neutralization, designed to change the physical, chemical, or biological character or composition of any hazardous waste so as to neutralize such waste, or so as to recover energy or material resources from the waste, or so as to render such waste non-hazardous, or less hazardous; safer to transport, store, or dispose of; or amenable for recovery, amenable for storage, or reduced in volume.” [40 CFR 260.10]
The term covers obvious means of treatment like neutralizing corrosive materials, burning for fuel, and reclaiming heavy metals out of industrial sludges. But it also includes things like letting half-full cans of paint dry or using a filter to separate suspended solids from wastewaters.
In most cases, you must have a permit from the U.S. or State EPA before treating hazardous waste, but there are a few exceptions. RCRA regulations authorize generators of hazardous waste to undertake several waste treatment activities without having to apply for a permit. However, there are limitations to this allowance.
Here are four waste treatment methods you can use without a permit:
Disassembling Equipment to Remove CRTs, Batteries, or Mercury Ampules
Cathode-Ray Tubes—Cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) from televisions and monitors are made of leaded glass. When discarded, these devices containing CRT exhibit the hazardous waste characteristic of toxicity for lead (D008). The act of removing the CRT from a discarded monitor is waste treatment, as it changes the physical character of the waste equipment (i.e., the discarded monitor) to render the waste more amenable for the recovery of the leaded glass.
The EPA authorizes this disassembly and certain other treatment options under unique exclusions from RCRA at 40 CFR 261.4(c)(22) and 261.39.
Batteries—Lead-acid, lithium, and certain other types of batteries can exhibit hazardous waste characteristics for corrosivity (D002), reactivity (D003), or toxicity for certain heavy metals (D008, etc.). But the EPA authorizes generators to handle hazardous waste batteries as universal wastes. Just like with CRTs, removing batteries from discarded equipment counts as waste treatment.
The EPA authorizes universal waste handlers to remove batteries from consumer products, to disassemble battery packs, and to perform certain other limited treatment options under the limitations specified at 40 CFR 273.13(a) and 273.33(a).
Mercury-containing Equipment—While thermostats are the most common mercury-containing devices still in use, over the years, elemental mercury has been used as an integral part of many types of equipment such as automotive switches and electrical relays. These devices typically exhibit the hazardous waste characteristic of toxicity for mercury (D009), but the EPA authorizes generators to handle mercury-containing equipment as universal waste. Just like CRTs and batteries, it eases the recycling process to remove the mercury from the rest of the device.
The EPA authorizes universal waste handlers to remove mercury ampules from equipment or to drain mercury out of unsealed vessels at 40 CFR 270.13. Note that there are several training and management requirements for this activity and that the removed mercury may have to be managed as hazardous rather than universal waste.
The hazardous waste characteristics of corrosivity (D002) and the flash point trigger for the characteristic of ignitibility (D001) apply only to liquid materials. If liquid ignitable or corrosive materials are mixed with solids, they may lose their characteristics. In general, diluting hazardous waste with other material to remove the characteristic is prohibited treatment.
However, if you add absorbent material (such as “oil-dry”) to hazardous waste in a container, you must add the absorbent either before you start accumulating hazardous waste or when you first begin accumulating hazardous waste in the container. The EPA authorizes this activity at 40 CFR 270.1(d)(vii). Remember that LDR treatment standards will still apply to decharacterized wastes. [40 CFR 261.3(d)-(g)]
Treatment While Accumulating
Adding absorbents isn’t the only unpermitted treatment technique generators can use while accumulating their hazardous waste. On March 24, 1986, at 51 FR 10168, the U.S. EPA said that “of course no permitting would be required if a generator chooses to treat their hazardous waste in the generator’s accumulation tanks or containers in conformance with the requirements of 40 CFR 262.34 and Subpart I or J of Part 265…. The Agency believes that treatment in accumulation tanks or containers is permissible under the existing rules, provided that the tanks or containers are operated strictly in compliance with all applicable standards.”
However, while generators could use any technique to treat their waste while accumulating it, they still have to comply with all applicable requirements. This means that the tank/container must remain closed except when adding/removing waste and the integrity of the container cannot be compromised. This means that any thermal treatment, which would degrade the integrity of the containment, is prohibited and any chemical treatment that releases a gas would require some sort of safety venting. However, physically compacting solid materials or filtering out solids from liquids with a filter (or just gravity) are allowed.
Secondary materials (sludges, by-products, spent materials, scrap metal) are not solid wastes when they are used or reused without first being reclaimed. [40 CFR 261.2(e)] The EPA recognizes that in many cases secondary materials may have to be physically processed before they can be effectively used or reused. While any physical processing at all is technically waste treatment (changing the physical form to recover value or render more amenable for handling), the EPA recognizes that “incidental processing” is not reclamation and does not require a treatment permit.
The scope and limitation of this exclusion for incidental processing is explained in a 2005 guidance document
and basically means that anything you would do to virgin ingredients before using them is not reclamation when you do it to hazardous secondary materials used as a substitute.
Take Advantage of RCRA Exclusions and Reliefs
Capitalize on available RCRA exclusions and reliefs and learn to minimize your hazardous waste, streamline waste management operations, and improve your bottom line at the Advanced Hazardous Waste Management Workshop
! The workshop is designed for experienced hazardous waste managers who want to minimize the regulatory impact on their facilities and satisfy the EPA’s annual training mandate.
Tags: hazardous, RCRA, treatment, universal waste, waste