Hazardous Waste Management Under RCRA Frequently Asked Questions

What is RCRA?

RCRA is the acronym for the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.  It is the federal aw that regulates the management of hazardous waste, non-hazardous wastes, medical wastes, and underground storage tanks

What is a hazardous waste?

A RCRA hazardous waste is a waste that either appears on one of three “lists” created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or, if not on the lists, exhibits one of four “characteristics” of hazardous waste.

What are the four hazardous waste characteristics?

The four hazardous waste characteristics are ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity.

What are the three types of listed wastes?

EPA has created three lists of hazardous waste.  40 C.F.R. Sections 261.31 to 261.33 contain the three lists of hazardous waste.  These lists are divided into a list of wastes from non-specific sources (the “F” list), a list of wastes from specific sources (the “K” list) and a list of discarded commercial chemical products (the “P/U” list).

The F list contains hazardous wastes from non-specific sources, meaning that any business — from gas stations to petrochemical plants — can produce these wastes.  The list consists mainly of spent solvents and electroplating wastes. The K list contains hazardous wastes from specific industries.  These are mostly residues from manufacturing and wastewater treatment processes.  The industries covered include wood preserving, organic chemicals, inorganic chemicals, pesticides, petroleum refining, and other industries.  The P and U list contains unused discarded commercial chemical products.  It includes off-specification species, containers, and spill residues thereof.

Are recycled hazardous waste regulated under RCRA?

Hazardous waste that is recycled generally continues to be regulated under RCRA as a hazardous waste.  Recycling units are themselves generally exempt from RCRA regulation, but the material being recycled (with a few exceptions) must be managed as a hazardous waste until final reclamation is complete.

What is a hazardous waste generator?

Generators are individuals that produce hazardous waste, usually as a result of an industrial process.

Are all hazardous waste generators regulated in the same way?

No.  Hazardous waste generators are divided into three categories, based on the amount of waste produced, and are subject to different levels of regulation.  The three types of hazardous generators are:

  • Conditionally exempt small quantity generators (CESQGs):  generate less than 100 kg of hazardous waste, or less than 1 kg of acutely hazardous waste per month.
  • Small quantity generators (SQGs):  generate between 100 kg and 1,000 kg of hazardous waste per month.
  • Large quantity generators (LQGs):  generate over 1,000 kilograms (kg) of hazardous waste, or over 1 kg of acutely hazardous waste per month.

What are the requirements for conditionally exempt small quantity Generators (CESQGs)?

CESQGs must:  identify all the hazardous waste they generate; not accumulate more than 1000 kg of hazardous waste at any time; ensure that their hazardous waste is delivered to someone who is authorized to manage their waste.

What are the requirements for small quantity generators (SQGs) and large quantity generators (LQGs)?

Requirements for SQGs (Small Quantity Generators) and LQGs (Large Quantity Generators) include:  obtaining an EPA Identification number (contact state environmental office for number); handling wastes properly before shipment (packaging, labeling, marking, placarding, accumulation time, etc.); complying with the manifest system; recordkeeping and reporting requirements.  Some states may have additional requirements for generators.

What are the requirements of hazardous waste transporters?

Requirements for transporters include:  obtaining an EPA Identification number complying with the manifest system; responding appropriately to hazardous waste discharges; complying with both the RCRA requirements & DOT regulations.

Do generators of hazardous waste need a RCRA permit?

No.  Only facilities that treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste must obtain a RCRA permit.

Are generators of hazardous waste allowed to treat their waste on-site without having to obtain a RCRA permit?

Yes.  EPA allows generators to treat their waste on-site without having to obtain a RCRA permit.  Such treatment must occur only in tanks or containers and these units must meet all applicable RCRA standards, however.  Moreover, some states do not allow generators to treat their waste without a RCRA permit.

What is the mixture rule?

The mixture rule states that any mixture of a listed hazardous waste and a non-hazardous waste remains regulated as a hazardous waste.  Mixtures of characteristic wastes and non-hazardous waste are regulated as hazardous waste if the resultant mixture continues to exhibit the characteristic.  Bear in mind that mixing wastes can be considered a treatment activity that would require a RCRA permit.

What is an example of the mixture rule in action?

A generator mixes 100 pounds of a listed solvent (F005) with 500 pounds of cement and wishes to dispose of the mixture.  The resulting 600 pounds must be managed as an F005 hazardous waste.

What is the derived-from rule?

The derived-from rule states that any waste derived from the treatment, storage, or disposal of a listed hazardous waste is a listed hazardous waste.

What is an example of this rule in action?

A generator ships 1,000 pounds of a listed solvent (F005) to an incinerator.  The solvent is burned and 100 pounds of ash is produced.  The ash remains subject to regulation as F005.

What are the land disposal restrictions (LDRs)?

The LDRs are a set of regulations that generally require hazardous wastes to be treated before they may be placed in a land disposal unit.

What type of treatment is required under the LDR program?

Generally, wastes must be treated to either meet concentration-based treatment standards or by a specified method of treatment.

What are the authorized penalties for non-compliance with RCRA?

EPA is authorized to issue civil penalties of up to $27,500 per day, per violation.  Criminal penalties are also authorized under certain circumstances.

What are some common examples of hazardous waste?

Solvents, acids, caustics, automobile batteries, paints, glues, adhesives, electroplating liquids, and heavy metals.

Are household wastes subject to regulation as hazardous waste?

No.  Congress explicitly exempted household waste from regulation as hazardous waste under RCRA.

What is an ignitable hazardous waste?

A waste is ignitable if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • It is a liquid, other than an aqueous solution containing less than 24% alcohol, that has a flash point below 140° F.  Kerosene, some solvents, and petroleum distillates are examples of ignitable wastes.
  • It is a solid that is capable of causing fire through friction or absorption of moisture and, when ignited, burns so vigorously and persistently at standard temperature and pressure (STP) that it creates a hazard.  An example would be finely divided metals.
  • It is a compressed, ignitable gas as defined by DOT regulations.
  • It is an oxidizer as defined by DOT regulations, such as sodium permanganate.

What is a corrosive hazardous waste?

Corrosive hazardous waste are typically acids (such as hydrochloric or sulfuric acids) and caustics (such as sodium hydroxide).  A waste is corrosive under RCRA it is:

  • Aqueous and has a pH less than or equal to 2.0 or greater than or equal to 12.5.
  • Liquid that corrodes steel at a rate greater than 6.35 mm (0.250 inch) per year at a test temperature of 55° C (130° F).

Solid, i.e., nonliquid material cannot be corrosive hazardous wastes by definition.

What is a reactive hazardous waste?

A waste is reactive if it meets any of the following conditions:

  • Is normally unstable and readily undergoes violent changes without detonating;
  • Reacts violently with water;
  • Forms potentially explosive mixtures with water;
  • Generates toxic gases, vapors or fumes in a quantity sufficient to present a danger to human health and the environment when mixed with water;
  • Is a cyanide- or sulfide-bearing waste that, when exposed to pH conditions between 2 and 12.5, can generate toxic gases, vapors or fumes in a quantity sufficient to present a danger to human health or the environment;
  • Is capable of detonation or explosive reaction if subjected to a strong initiating force or if heated under confinement;
  • Is readily capable of detonation or explosive decomposition or reaction at standard temperature and pressure; or
  • Is a DOT class A or B explosive.