RCRA Recycling for New Nicotine Products

Posted on 9/22/2015 by James Griffin

US industry has changed a lot since 1976, when Congress first passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The US EPA began issuing hazardous waste regulations in 1980 and had largely completed the task by 1994. But as US industry evolves, so must the EPA hazardous waste regulations.

For instance, EPA originally identified cigarette replacements (nicotine patches, gums, lozenges) as acutely hazardous wastes because they were commercial chemical products with sole active ingredients (i.e., nicotine) whose improper disposal was considered a hazard to public health and the environment.

The advent of e-cigarettes, combined with improvements in tobacco technology, has created a niche for the recycling and reclamation of nicotine from cigarette replacements.

RCRA Interpretation of New Nicotine Products

In May, US EPA responded to two requests for interpretation of the Agency's standards for recycling new-generation nicotine products under the recently revised rules for hazardous waste recycling (80 FR 1694; January 13, 2015). Read the EPA's interpretation on e-cigarettes and nicotine liquid:

Letter to Daniel K. Dewitt of Warner, Norcross, & Judd LLP

Letter to Scott DeMuth of g2revolution, LLC

When discarded, unused commercial chemical products with nicotine as the sole active ingredient are assigned hazardous waste code P075. E-cigarettes and other nicotine products are delivery mechanisms for nicotine solutions in which nicotine is the sole active ingredient.

RCRA hazardous waste rules for new nicotine products

Reclaiming Nicotine Under RCRA

When unused and unsalable nicotine products are collected and the nicotine is extracted and purified for use in producing new nicotine-containing products, the collected products are excluded from the RCRA hazardous waste regulations per 40 CFR 261.2(c)(3) under the concept of reclamation. At 40 CFR 261.1, the EPA states that "a material is 'reclaimed' if it is processed to recover a usable product, or if it is regenerated."

Rules for "Legitimate" RCRA Recycling

To capitalize on this exclusion for any recycling activity (including reclamation), the recycling process must conform to four factors, per 40 CFR 260.43:
  1. Utility: The hazardous secondary material provides a useful contribution to the process or intermediate or serves as an effective substitute for a commercial product. In this case, it is the recovery of a valuable constituent (i.e., nicotine).
  2. Value: The recycling process creates a valuable product or intermediate (i.e., nicotine).
  3. Management: Generators and recyclers must manage the hazardous secondary material as a commodity, not a waste. According to EPA, hazardous secondary materials must be managed in a manner consistent with the management of raw materials (if equivalent forms exist). Also, if someone purchases the material from you, it is product, but if you have to pay someone to take it away, it is waste.
  4. Comparable: The product of the recycling process must be comparable to a legitimate product or intermediate. If the reclaimed nicotine contains significantly more, or different, kinds of contaminants compared to the raw material, then it is not comparable and the recycling is not legitimate.
The recycling of unused, unsalable nicotine products into nicotine-delivery devices is just one example of novel regulatory issues EPA faces as new technologies merge and industry develops new uses for unused chemicals. Ultimately, the reclamation exclusion for nicotine products can potentially decrease the amount of waste nicotine being disposed of into the environment.

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Meet EPA's annual RCRA training standard with convenient, interactive training options for new and experienced professionals. Watch the video at to learn about EPA's hazardous waste training requirements. Or browse to the RCRA course catalog now to choose the course that's right for you!

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