25 Common RCRA Mistakes to Avoid

Posted on 9/27/2016 by Roseanne Bottone

The RCRA hazardous waste regulations at 40 CFR Parts 260–279 are designed to minimize the long-term threat to human health and the environment by conserving valuable energy and natural resources; reducing the amount of waste that’s generated, whenever feasible; and ensuring that any wastes that are generated are managed in an environmentally sound manner. There is also a monetary incentive to comply with regulations.

This summer, the EPA increased its maximum civil penalty for hazardous waste violations to $70,117. That said, EPA does not assess the maximum penalty for every violation. When laying penalties, the US EPA’s RCRA Civil Penalty Policy (based upon Section 3008 of RCRA, 42 U.S.C. § 6928) takes into consideration the seriousness of a violation, any good-faith efforts to comply with applicable requirements, and other factors to calculate an appropriate monetary penalty.

US EPA’s Penalty Policy consists of:

(1) Determining a gravity-based penalty for a particular violation, from a penalty assessment matrix;
(2) Adding a “multi-day” component, as appropriate, to account for a violation's duration;
(3) Adjusting the sum of the gravity-based and multi-day components, up or down, for case-specific circumstances; and
(4) Adding to this amount the appropriate economic benefit gained through non-compliance.

The RCRA Civil Penalty Policy uses this calculation methodology:

Penalty Amount = gravity-based + multi-day +/– adjustments + economic benefit component

Most Common RCRA Hazardous Waste Violations

Below is a list of some of the most common violations that EPA and State inspectors find at generator facilities across the country. Take a look around your facility to see if you discover any of these errors. By instituting a best management practice of self-audits and actively correcting deficiencies, you can help protect your company’s reputation and bottom line.

Common hazardous waste violations in chemical labs

  • Chemicals forgotten in university stockrooms (sometimes for decades)
  • Research labs with wastes in damaged containers
  • Materials labeled “unknown”
  • Chemicals stored at improper temperatures, rendering them dangerous
  • Residues improperly disposed of in sinks


Hazardous waste containersHazardous Waste Containers & Tanks

  • Containers missing start dates or with illegible information
  • Non-RCRA-empty small receptacles, vials, jars, cans, etc., containing residue and tossed in the regular garbage
  • Satellite containers not closed or marked with the words “hazardous waste” or other identifying words
  • Certain containers with rings or funnels not closed properly

Storage Areas and Accumulation Time Limits

  • On-site storage exceeding 90/180/270 days without an extension or permit
  • No emergency information posted by the phone at small quantity generator facilities
  • Incompatibles not managed in a way to ensure no comingling

Commercial Chemical Products

  • Dusty, corroded containers appearing “abandoned”


  • Inadequate contingency planning
  • No proof of container and tank inspections or missing info
  • Failure to have a waste minimization plan

Universal waste containersUniversal Waste

  • Universal waste labels without indication of type of waste (e.g., batteries, lamps) or unacceptable abbreviations (e.g., “bat” for battery)
  • No marking or other evidence of an accumulation start date
  • Storage that would not prevent releases into the environment
  • Lamp boxes not closed (e.g., with “tucked” flaps or lamps sticking out of the top)

Waste Identification

  • Failure to document use of exclusions
  • Failure to make hazardous waste determinations
  • Failure to document “generator knowledge”

Hazardous Waste Training

  • No training at all for certain “personnel” that could cause non-compliance with the regulations
  • Incomplete training plans and records or no annual review for large quantity generators
  • Employees signing the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest without DOT Hazmat training

By reviewing the list above and keeping these common RCRA mistakes in mind, you can work to keep your personnel safe and help your site avoid rising EPA penalties. If you do discover these issues at your site, correct them quickly; the multi-day component of EPA's penalty policy means that fines can add up fast. If an EPA inspector finds issues with your hazardous waste management program, knowing how US EPA assesses penalties will help you form realistic expectations of the costs associated with specific violations, so you can correct the most dangerous, and expensive, violations first. 

RCRA Refresher Training at

Renew your RCRA hazardous waste certification at the one-day RCRA Hazardous Waste Refresher Webinar on October 13! Led by an expert, full-time Lion instructor, the interactive webinar covers the critical generator rules for those with previous RCRA training. Meet EPA’s annual training mandate and build the expertise to keep your site in compliance. Plus, get a full year of Lion Membership for complete follow-up compliance support, including fast answers to your RCRA questions through the Finder Service. 

Tags: hazardous waste, RCRA hazardous waste management

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