Learn what hazardous waste disposal is, the regulations that must be followed to properly dispose of waste, and ways to help you comply with them
Published 6 May 2022
Hazardous waste disposal is the process of properly removing and disposing of hazardous substances from a property or after its use. Proper handling of hazardous waste is needed to ensure that the potential hazards are properly addressed.
The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which was approved by Congress in 1976, governs the disposal of hazardous wastes. It was the first federal law to address hazardous waste regulations. It was made to make sure that the production, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous wastes are done in a way that is safe for people and the environment.
Hazardous wastes are any type of materials which may cause or have the potential to cause harm or serious health and environmental problems if improperly treated, managed, or disposed of. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines hazardous materials as those that can be used to create explosives, poison gas, or radioactive materials. In order for a waste to be classified as hazardous, it must possess at least one of the following characteristics: combustible, corrosive, infectious, allergenic, poisonous, or cancer-causing. Hazardous waste includes many different materials, but some of the most common include: batteries, lead, gasoline, oil, paint, and mercury.
Hazardous waste is generated from many sources. A generator pertains to any entity that generates or produces hazardous wastes. EPA established three categories of generators in its regulations:
Generators are typically well-informed about the risks of hazardous waste and know that they will need the services of a waste management business to manage their waste. However, some are unaware that hazardous waste is regulated under RCRA’s Subtitle C. The EPA has devised a comprehensive program to assure the safe management of hazardous waste from its generation until its final disposal—the “cradle-to-grave” system.
Cradle-to-grave means that a generator is responsible for its waste from the time it is made until it is disposed of. It is always the generator’s responsibility, even if the waste is transported away from their facility. Hiring a waste disposal company to transport and dispose of the waste does not free the generator from this responsibility. The cradle-to-grave system reminds generators to comply with the regulations in handling hazardous waste. Compliance will minimize the generator’s likelihood of having liabilities and fines.
EPA has the authority in the identification and classification of whether a waste is hazardous. It has developed a regulatory process on identifying which substances are hazardous. This process consists of a series of questions for easier understanding and efficiency in identifying if waste is subject to RCRA Subtitle C Regulations.
The material must be a “solid waste” (which can be solid, liquid, or gas) to be considered a hazardous waste. The process of identifying hazardous waste begins with determining whether it should be classified as such. If the material is not a solid waste, then it is not subject to RCRA Subtitle C regulation. If it is, then the next questions will help in determining its classification as a hazardous waste.
If the solid waste is not excluded from the list of solid waste and hazardous waste regulations, then the material must be evaluated with the next question.
See list of wastes that are excluded from Solid Waste Regulation here.
See list of wastes that are excluded from Hazardous Waste Regulation here.
The definition and list of listed hazardous waste and characteristic hazardous waste are found in title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) in part 261. If the material is found on the list, it must be evaluated with the next question.
If a solid waste is removed or “delisted” in accordance with RCRA delisting process, then the waste is not identified as “hazardous” and not subject to RCRA Subtitle C regulations.
As identified by EPA, waste is classified as “hazardous” if they are included in the following:
EPA has provided steps on how hazardous waste generators should comply with regulations on hazardous waste disposal:
It’s understandable that learning the ins and outs of RCRA can be overwhelming. But if you’re a hazardous waste generator, it’s vital that you take the time to do so. It will also help you remain compliant and avoid significant fines and legal trouble. Empower your facility with the technology to support your facility’s responsibility to comply with hazardous waste regulations from cradle-to-grave with iAuditor by SafetyCulture.
iAuditor provides solutions for safety, quality, operations, and training—all-in-one, easy-to-use app that is utilized by a variety of industries for inspections, audits, and compliance checks. Generators can benefit from this app with the following features:
Check out related checklists in hazardous waste disposal:
Loida Bauto is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. An Interior Designer by training, she began to pursue her passion for writing in 2017. Her interests involve a diverse range of topics such as Disability, Universal Design, and Sustainability, among other matters that aim to improve the world we live in. She is a self-published book author in 2018 and 2021.
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