The process of managing hazardous waste can be complicated. There are many guidelines to follow in order to be compliant with state and federal regulations, and proper identification of hazardous waste is the cornerstone of a compliant waste program. The entire identification process can be confusing, especially when it comes to understanding the definition of hazardous waste exclusions. You can help make sure your hazardous waste program is efficient, cost-effective, and compliant by knowing which exclusions to apply. We’ve put together this list to help streamline waste management at your facility.
Proper Identification of Hazardous Waste
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s (RCRA) Subtitle C hazardous waste management program ensures that wastes are managed safely and lawfully. It is a comprehensive system that begins with a specific, formal process for categorizing wastes. Accurate categorization is critical to avoiding the inherent risks posed by mishandled hazardous wastes.
In order for any material to be a hazardous waste, it has to first be a solid waste. Therefore, the first step in properly identifying hazardous waste is determining whether or not the material is excluded from the definition of solid waste.
The term “solid waste” refers to materials that:
- will be discarded and no longer be used for their original intended purpose
- have to be reclaimed or processed before reuse
Solid wastes can be solids, liquids, semi-solids, or contained gases — the term does not refer to the physical state of the waste. Therefore, the term “solid waste” is interchangeable for “waste” and means any waste, including solids and liquids.
Did you know? Only a small fraction of all RCRA solid wastes actually qualify as a hazardous waste.
Why Do Exclusions Exist?
The second step in the RCRA hazardous waste identification process is determining whether or not a waste is exempt from regulation. Some materials are specifically excluded from the definitions, even though they might fit the definitions of a solid or hazardous waste under waste identification. According to EPA, these materials should not be regulated as solid or hazardous wastes for one or more reasons, and many exclusions are mandated in the statute. Other exclusions were selected for various reasons:
- to provide an incentive to recycle certain materials
- because there was not enough information on the material to justify its regulation as a solid or hazardous waste
- because the material was already subject to regulation under another statute.
Solid Waste Exclusions
Certain materials, such as domestic sewage and industrial wastewater discharges are excluded from the definition of solid waste. There are currently a total of 19 exclusions that were made either as a result of EPA rulemaking or Congressional action. The exclusions were made for a variety of reasons such as: regulations by other laws, lack of data, impracticability of regulating the waste, economic impacts, and public policy. If a material is listed, it can not be considered a solid waste and therefore, can not be considered a hazardous waste.
- Domestic sewage and mixtures of domestic sewage – mixtures of sanitary waste and other waste (including industrial waste) once discharged to Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW), since those are regulated by the Clean Water Act (CWA).
- Industrial wastewater discharges, also called point source discharges, are "discernible or discrete conveyances" from which pollutants may be discharged, such as a pipe. CWA regulates these discharges, so the exclusion prevents duplication.
- Return flow from irrigation of agricultural land.
- Radioactive wastes are regulated under the Atomic Energy Act (AEA) and therefore, not regulated under RCRA.
- Solvent-contaminated earth produced (or solutions not recovered) by solvent solutions used with in-situ mining.
- Pulping liquors that are used to dissolve wood chips, unless accumulated speculatively or otherwise reclaimed.
- Spent sulfuric acid, unless accumulated speculatively.
- Reclamation in enclosed tanks – secondary materials (sludges or spent materials) that are generated during production processes and able to be reused in those same processes.
- Spent wood preserving solutions and wastewaters containing spent wood preservatives.
- Certain coke (used in the production of iron) by-product wastes.
- Splash condenser (used in treatment of emission control dust/sludge from steel producing electric furnaces) dross residue.
- Secondary materials (sludges, spent materials, or by-products) that are generated by the petroleum refining industry and recovered oil from secondary materials generated within the petroleum industry.
- Certain scrap metals.
- Shredded circuit boards.
- Pulping condensates that are derived from the kraft pulping process.
- Liquid and gaseous hazardous waste-derived fuels that are comparable to fossil fuels.
- Certain secondary materials used in mineral processing.
- Petrochemical recovered oil (provided certain conditions are met).
- Spent caustic solutions from petroleum refining.
Hazardous Waste Exclusions
A hazardous waste is a solid waste that poses a substantial hazard when improperly treated, stored, transported, or disposed. Certain solid wastes, such as household wastes and wastes associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil are specifically excluded. These exceptions are solid wastes, but cannot be a hazardous waste, even if the material technically is a “listed” hazardous waste or exhibits a characteristic of hazardous waste (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity). There are a total of 17 exclusions from the definition of hazardous waste.
- Household waste
- Agricultural waste
- Mining overburden – earth and rocks that were removed to gain access to ore deposits.
- “Bevill and Bentsen” wastes (named for the two senators who proposed the statutory exemptions)
- Fossil fuel combustion wastes
- Oil, gas, and geothermal wastes
- Mineral and mineral-processing wastes
- Cement kiln dust
- Trivalent (not considered hazardous) chromium wastes
- Arsenical-treated wood
- Petroleum-contaminated media and debris from underground storage tanks
- Hydrocarbon recovery operations
- Spent chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants
- Used oil filters (non-terne plated only)
- Used oil distillation bottoms (from re-refining of used oil)
- Leachate or gas condensate from landfills, derived from certain petroleum refinery listed wastes (K169, K170, K171, and K172), provided their discharge is regulated under CWA.
- Project XL pilot project exclusions
Important to note: If an excluded waste is mixed with a listed or characteristic hazardous waste, it may render the waste no longer excluded. Many exclusions are conditional and may be specific to an industry or to a certain type of waste. For a more detailed explanation of listed exclusions, refer to EPA’s user-friendly reference document for solid and hazardous waste exclusions. Finally, be sure to keep all of the information that you use to make a hazardous waste determination for at least three years after your waste is last sent for treatment, storage, or disposal.
Your facility can streamline the waste management process and reduce regulatory responsibility by utilizing the solid and hazardous waste exclusions. Partner with a trusted waste services provider to help with the entire hazardous waste identification process as well as identifying your applicable exclusions.