Each year more than 20,000 hazardous waste generators produce over 40 million tons of hazardous waste regulated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Whether it is generated from large industries or small business, hazardous waste presents a potential danger to human health and the environment if not properly handled, treated and disposed of.
On the bright side of this equation is the more you know, the more you can potentially reduce the amount of hazardous waste you generate, take advantage of recycling/reuse opportunities, limit the liabilities associated with your hazardous waste, as well as cut your disposal costs.
How is Hazardous Waste Defined?
Hazardous waste, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is “waste that is dangerous or potentially harmful to our health or the environment.” Taking many physical forms, hazardous waste may be solid, semi-solid, liquid, or even gaseous. An RCRA hazardous waste appears on one of four hazardous waste list (F-list, K-list, P-list, or U-list) or exhibits the characteristics of ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity, as established by EPA regulations.
Listed Wastes: Established by EPA regulations:
- The F-list (non-specific source wastes): Identifies wastes from common manufacturing and industrial processes, such as spent solvents from cleaning or degreasing operations. The processes producing these wastes can occur in different sectors of industry including manufacturing facilities, businesses, governments, schools, and organizations that generate solid or liquid waste.
- The K-list (source-specific wastes): This list includes certain wastes from specific industries, such as petroleum refining or pesticide manufacturing. Some types of wastewaters and sludges from production and treatment processes in these industries are examples of source-specific wastes.
- The P-list and the U-list (discarded commercial chemical products): These lists include specific commercial chemical products in an unused form when they are discarded or intended to be discarded. Some pharmaceutical products and some pesticides become hazardous waste when discarded. The difference between the two are that chemicals on the “P-list” are identified as acutely hazardous waste and those on the “U-list” are are identified as toxic wastes. Some chemicals on both the P and U list may also be designated as having other hazardous characteristics.
Characteristic Wastes: Exhibit one or more of four characteristics defined in 40 CFR Part 261 Subpart C:
- Ignitability – Ignitable wastes, such as waste oils and solvents, can create fires under certain conditions, are spontaneously combustible, or have a flash point less than 60 °C (140 °F).
- Corrosivity – Corrosive wastes, such as battery acid, are acids or bases (pH less than or equal to 2, or greater than or equal to 12.5) that are capable of corroding metal containers, such as storage tanks, drums, and barrels.
- Reactivity – Reactive wastes, such as lithium-sulfur batteries and explosives, are unstable under “normal” conditions. They can cause explosions, toxic fumes, gases, or vapors when heated, compressed, or mixed with water.
- Toxicity – Toxic wastes are harmful or fatal when ingested or absorbed (e.g., containing mercury, lead, etc.). When toxic wastes are land disposed, contaminated liquid may leach from the waste and pollute ground water.
Certain types of RCRA hazardous waste can be further classified into additional categories:
- Universal Wastes: Includes things like batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment (e.g., thermostats, old fashioned thermometers, etc.) and fluorescent lamps. NOTE: definitions of universal wastes vary by state.
- Mixed Wastes: These wastes contain both radioactive and hazardous waste components.