The 4 Keys to Legitimate RCRA Recycling

Posted on 5/22/2017 by Roseanne Bottone

Have you ever wished there were some (legal) way around the RCRA hazardous waste requirements?

Recycling certain hazardous secondary materials offers a number of ways for facilities to exclude those materials from US EPA’s definition of solid waste (DSW). If a material is not a solid waste, then by definition it cannot be a hazardous waste.

This means that by working to exclude your material from the DSW, you can help your facility save time and money on management, transport, and disposal by effectively “getting out of” some burdensome RCRA hazardous waste requirements.

Here, we will take a look at some of the ways facilities use legitimate recycling to ease their regulatory burden and save money, Then, we will review the 4 keys to legitimate RCRA recycling.

If you want to learn more about RCRA recycling and earn CEUs toward your professional certifications, check out the new RCRA Recycling Reliefs Online Course.

Recycling Option 1: Reclaiming Certain Materials

One popular option for recycling hazardous secondary materials is through reclamation.
What is reclamation? According to the RCRA regulations at 40 CFR 261.1(c)(4), “a material is ‘reclaimed’ if it is processed to recover a usable product, or if it is regenerated…”

Examples given in RCRA include recovery of lead values from spent batteries and regeneration of spent solvents.
  • Characteristic-only by-products and sludges and commercial chemical products that are reclaimed are excluded at 40 CFR 261.2(c)(3) if they are recycled in a timely manner.
  • Any hazardous secondary material legitimately reclaimed under the control of the generator or by a verified recycler, or, in the case of certain spent solvents, transferred to a third party for the purpose of remanufacturing, can be excluded from the definition of solid waste as well. Only generators located in states that have adopted the exclusions at 40 CFR 261.4(a)(23), (24), and (27) may use these additional reclamation options.
To find out when your state may adopt new RCRA hazardous waste exclusions and other provisions, read How States Adopt New RCRA Hazardous Waste Rules.  

Recycling Option #2: Reusing Materials “As Is”:

  • The RCRA re-use relief exclusion allows generators to return a material to the process from which it was generated without first reclaiming it.
  • The generator, or a third party, may also re-use the material “as is” as an ingredient to make a product or as a substitute for a product. (See 40 CFR 261.2(e).)

How to Avoid Sham Recycling

When using exclusions under RCRA, it is the responsibility of the generator to document how he or she has met the conditions of the exclusion. If the generator does not meet these conditions, EPA considers the recycling activity to be a “sham.”

EPA warns that a hazardous secondary material that is “sham recycled” is considered a solid waste. Therefore, the generator must avoid sham recycling to qualify for exclusion. (See 40 CFR 261.2(f) and (g)).

The 4 Keys to Legitimate RCRA Recycling

For many years, the EPA had a “policy” document available that detailed what it expected a generator to do to avoid sham recycling. Effective July 13, 2015, the agency made this policy official by codifying the standard in the regulations at 40 CFR 260.43 and defining conditions for legitimate recycling.

To prove to US EPA that your recycling efforts are legitimate, you must meet all four of the following conditions:

I. Manage the Hazardous Secondary Material as a Valuable Commodity

The generator and recycler must manage the material that will be recycled in a manner consistent with the management of any valuable raw material or in an equally protective manner.

Containers should be in good condition, marked with the identity of the contents and safety warnings, protected against damage, and tracked as inventory.

II. Provide a Useful Contribution

To meet the standards for legitimate recycling, a hazardous secondary material must provide a useful contribution to the recycling process or to a product or intermediate of the recycling process. EPA is specific about what a “useful contribution” entails. The material must:
  1. Contribute valuable ingredients to a product or intermediate; or
  2. Replace a catalyst or carrier in the recycling process; or
  3. Be the source of a valuable constituent recovered in the recycling process; or
  4. Be recovered or regenerated by the recycling process; or
  5. Be used as an effective substitute for a commercial product.
For example, a legitimate use of spent acetone and spent hexane is to use them as ingredients to make a rubber cement adhesive. Mixing the same materials into cement that will be poured to make a patio is an example of sham recycling.

III. Produce a Valuable Product or Intermediary

The resultant product of the recycling process must have value. Value can be demonstrated by selling it to a third party. In addition, the recycler or generator may use it as an effective substitute for a commercial product or as an ingredient or intermediate in an industrial process.

IV. Ensure the Resultant Product Is Comparable to Other Like Products

The product of the recycling process must be comparable to products in the same category. For example, a distillation process should be efficient enough to clean up spent methanol so that the clean methanol is comparable to methanol produced by a chemical manufacturer.

The recycled product should not exhibit any characteristics that an analogous virgin material does not. Methanol normally has a flashpoint of about 53°F, so exhibiting the characteristic of ignitability is acceptable. However, if the recovered methanol has cadmium in it (e.g., more than 1 mg/L), then it would exhibit the toxicity characteristic for cadmium. Since virgin methanol does not contain this metal, the recovered methanol would not meet the standard for legitimate recycling.

Even if the recovered material does not exhibit a characteristic of hazardous waste, the concentrations of all the hazardous constituents found in Appendix VIII of Part 261 must be at levels in the recycled product (or intermediate) consistent with widely recognized commodity standards and specifications.

Advanced RCRA Training—Summer 2017

The one-day Advanced RCRA Hazardous Waste Management Workshop is where experienced RCRA professionals get together to discuss challenges, success stories, and best practices for effective hazardous waste compliance.  

This interactive, discussion-based workshop will help you find new ways to minimize the waste your site generates and capitalize on available RCRA recycling and reuse exclusions.

Advanced RCRA Training Schedule

Baltimore - June 14
Northern NJ - June 21
Nashville - July 26

St. Louis- September 20
Pittsburgh – October 20
Dallas – October 27
Houston – November 2
Philadelphia – December 15

Tags: hazardous, management, RCRA, recycling, waste

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