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Do We Need a RCRA Permit to Store Hazardous Waste?

Posted on 9/28/2021 by Roseanne Bottone and Roger Marks

They say that every rule has an exception. Some rules have lots of them.

In general, a facility must have a RCRA permit to store hazardous waste on site. But it would be burdensome and inefficient for US EPA to require every site that generates hazardous waste to apply for and maintain a hazardous waste storage permit.

Instead, EPA created a system of exemptions to the RCRA permit requirements and the stringent management standards that apply to permitted facilities. These exemptions allow tens of thousands of facilities in the US to store hazardous waste for a limited time without a RCRA permit, as long as certain conditions are met.

RCRA Hazardous Waste Permit Program

EPA lays out the scope of the RCRA permit requirement in 40 CFR Part 270.1:
“RCRA requires a permit for the “treatment,” “storage,” and “disposal” of any “hazardous waste” as identified or listed in 40 CFR Part 261.”

[40 CFR 270.1(c)]
As regulations go, that’s about as clear as it gets. Yes, a permit is required to store hazardous waste. But keep reading; EPA lists the exclusions and exemptions next.

RCRA Conditions for Exemption

The first exclusion mentioned here tells us that RCRA does not require a permit for:
“Generators who accumulate hazardous waste on site in compliance with all the conditions for exemption provided in 40 CFR Part 262.14, 262.15, 262.16, and 262.17.” 

[40 CFR 270.1(c)(2)(i)]
In other words, hazardous waste generators can store waste without a permit as long as they comply with the conditions for exclusions referenced above.

To translate that into everyday language, we need to ask ourselves a question: What does it mean to be “in compliance with all the conditions” in those other parts of the regulations?

Let’s take them one by one.

40 CFR 262.14
Very Small Quantity Generators Exemption (VSQG)

The smallest category of hazardous waste generator, a very small quantity generator (or VSQG) may generate and accumulate, i.e., store, a limited quantity of hazardous waste.

These generators must identify their hazardous waste and count acute and non-acute hazardous waste separately. They must also ensure their waste is delivered to an “appropriate” facility for disposal.

Learn more about the requirements for VSQGs with the updated RCRA for Very Small Quantity Generators online course.

40 CFR 262.15
The Satellite Exemption

The RCRA rules for satellite areas allow generators to accumulate a limited quantity of hazardous waste “at or near the point of generation.”

Generators may accumulate: 
  • 55 gallons of non-acute hazardous waste; and/or
  • Either 1 quart of liquid acute hazardous waste or 1 kg of solid acute hazardous waste.
To use the satellite area exemption, generators must comply with container management, time limits, and container/tank marking requirements. The satellite areas must also be included in the site’s preparedness, prevention, and emergency procedures.
Read more about RCRA Satellite Areas:

40 CFR 262.16
Small Quantity Generator (SQG) Exemption

The SQG must also comply with generation and accumulation quantity limits and prove their generator status. The regulations specify management, marking requirements for containers and tanks, and onsite storage time limits. A small quantity generator may store waste on site for 180 days (270 days if the waste will be shipped more than 200 miles).

Administrative requirements also apply, like acquiring an EPA ID number, keeping detailed waste ID records, and use a Waste Manifest to ship waste offsite. SQGs must train hazardous waste personnel to be “thoroughly familiar” with waste handling and emergency response procedures. They are also subject to the site’s preparedness, prevention, and emergency procedures rules.

40 CFR 262.17
Large Quantity Generator (LQG) Exemption

Large quantity generators must comply with the most restrictive conditions for exemption. They may store hazardous waste onsite for just 90 days. The waste must be managed in accordance with regulations for containers and other storage devices, additional restrictions for certain types of waste, and more administrative requirements than small or very small quantity generators.

LQGs must maintain a written contingency plan, for example, and must file biennial reports with EPA.
Large quantity generators must provide annual hazardous waste training for personnel.

[40 CFR 262.17(a)(7)]

So, Storage Without a Permit is Allowed—Conditionally

EPA does allow generators to store hazardous waste without a RCRA permit, but there's a catch. 

These facilities must comply with the requirements outlined above. EPA can penalize a site that fails to meet any aspect of the exemption. The generator can be cited for the violation as well as for failure to obtain a permit. With civil penalties for RCRA violations increasing annually and approaching $80,000 per day, per violation, that's a risk most facilities cannot afford to take. 


This graphic RCRA Generator Status cheat sheet displays the monthly quantity limits for large, small, and very small quantity hazardous waste generators.

Tags: environmental compliance, hazardous waste generator, hazardous waste management, permit, RCRA

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