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  • Writer's pictureNathan Hammer

Basics of Hazardous Waste Laws

For many businesses, especially small operations without dedicated environmental, health, and safety personnel, managing hazardous waste can seem overwhelming. However, following the proper procedures is crucial to avoid severe consequences like environmental contamination, worker safety hazards, and steep regulatory fines.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is the main federal law governing hazardous waste management in the United States. It provides guidelines on identifying, storing, transporting, treating, and disposing of hazardous materials safely and responsibly. Understanding and adhering to RCRA regulations is essential for businesses that generate hazardous waste.

So, what qualifies as hazardous waste? In simple terms, it's any waste that poses a threat to human health or the environment. This includes ignitable substances like flammable liquids and paint thinners, corrosive materials like acids and bases, reactive chemicals that can readily explode or undergo violent reactions, and toxic wastes like heavy metals or certain pesticides that can cause serious health issues, even in small amounts.

Many common business materials can be considered hazardous waste if not properly discarded. Examples include aerosol cans, solvents, leftover paints and varnishes, mercury-containing devices like thermostats and fluorescent bulbs, pesticides and herbicides, harsh cleaning products, and lead-acid batteries from vehicles or equipment.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies hazardous waste through two main methods: listed wastes, which are explicitly named as hazardous, and characteristic wastes, which are classified based on exhibiting hazardous properties like ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity.

Improper handling and disposal of hazardous waste can have devastating impacts. Leaks or improper disposal can contaminate soil, water sources, and air, harming ecosystems and human health. Mishandling hazardous materials also puts workers at risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals, leading to injuries or illnesses. Perhaps most importantly for businesses, violations of RCRA regulations can result in exorbitant fines and even criminal charges.

Even without a dedicated environmental professional, businesses can take control and manage hazardous waste responsibly. Educating employees on identifying hazardous waste, proper handling procedures, and emergency protocols is crucial. All hazardous waste containers must be clearly labeled and stored in designated, secure areas with proper secondary containment. Maintaining accurate records of waste generation, storage, and disposal activities is also essential.

For many businesses, partnering with a reputable environmental consulting firm familiar with RCRA regulations can be invaluable. These professionals can guide companies through the process of properly transporting and disposing of hazardous waste through certified facilities, taking a significant burden off internal resources.

By following these basic steps, businesses can ensure they manage hazardous waste safely and compliantly, protecting employees, the environment, and their bottom line from the severe consequences of mishandling these materials. Responsible waste management is not just a regulatory obligation, but a vital safeguard for any operation that generates hazardous byproducts.


Ready to schedule a free consultation call to discuss your waste programs (or lack thereof)? Email us today to get it scheduled.

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