EPA’s New Regulatory Requirements for Hazardous Waste Generators

by Marcia Y. Kinter, vice president-government & business information, Specialty Graphic Imaging Association
All businesses produce waste of some kind, and, unfortunately, some of these wastes can be harmful. Printing and decorating produces a variety of wastes from inks, solvents and other chemicals involved in the process, which may be considered hazardous. To put it simply, a hazardous waste is a type of waste that possesses qualities that make it dangerous to people or the environment and can be generated from many sources, including industrial manufacturing processes. Because of the potential risks of these hazardous materials, the EPA regulates the ways in which businesses must handle and dispose of them.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), established in 1976, is the framework for the proper management of both hazardous and non-hazardous waste. The rule mandates a cradle-to-grave solution for managing waste, meaning hazardous waste must be handled safely from the time it is generated to the time of its final disposal. Subtitle C of the rule authorizes states to implement key provisions of hazard waste requirements in lieu of the federal government. If a state program does not exist, however, EPA directly implements the hazardous waste requirements in that state. Subtitle C regulations set criteria for hazardous waste generators, transporters, and treatment, storage and disposal facilities. This includes permitting requirements, enforcement and corrective action or cleanup.

Generators of these hazardous wastes are regulated based on the amount of hazardous waste they generate in a calendar month, not the size of their business or facility. Generators covered under this rule must either store or discard their waste in a manner consistent with EPA’s regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule went into effect May 2017. The new rule serves as a reorganization of previous generator rules, making them easier to understand. It also allows for more flexible management of hazardous waste and closes gaps in the regulations. By making them easier to understand, compliance should improve.

More than 60 separate changes were made to the regulations, and while some of them were minor, others were more significant. The revisions fall into the following categories:

  • Reorganize the regulations
  • Increased flexibility for managing hazardous wastes
  • Clarify existing requirements
  • Improve environmental protection

While this article cannot begin to provide details on all changes, a focus on those that have the most impact can be highlighted. One of the major shifts in the regulations involves changing the reference from Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators to Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQG). This change was made to maintain consistency in language with the other two categories, Large Quantity Generator (LQG) and Small Quantity Generator (SQG). While the category name changed, the applicability threshold did not. Facilities that generate less than 25 gallons of hazardous waste per month fall within this category.

This change also allows facilities that are Large Quantity Generators (LQG) with satellite locations that are VSQGs to consolidate. The VSQGs now can send hazardous wastes to LQGs within the same company and manage the waste in an environmentally sound manner rather than as an exempt waste. The new rule also stipulates that even if a generator that generally is in either the SQG or VSQG category generates enough waste in one month to move them up a category, they can remain either a SQG or VSQG, respectively.

These changes reflect a move towards more flexibility in handling “episodic” variations in a generator’s category. The final rule allows generators to maintain their existing category provided they comply with a streamlined set of requirements. The rule allows for one event per calendar year with the ability to petition for a second event. These can be planned or unplanned events where a facility produces more hazardous waste than usual – enough that they would technically be placed in a different category. In these instances, a company must notify the EPA or state at least 30 days prior to initiating a planned event and notify the EPA or state within 72 hours after an unplanned event. All episodic events must be concluded within 60 days, including getting the episodic waste off-site and disposed of properly.

In addition to allowing more flexibility for the categories of generators, the new rule also provides some regulatory burden relief for the emergency response requirements. The new rule updates the emergency response and contingency planning provisions for SQGs and LQGs. Previous regulations required generators to attempt to make arrangements with local emergency responders regarding hazardous wastes to prepare for potential emergencies. In the new rule, generators must document that they have at least attempted to make these arrangements, which will help avoid situations where generators are responsible for local responders not cooperating. The new rule also includes Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) among those emergency planning organizations that a generator may make response arrangements.

Existing LQGs also will need to submit quick reference guides with key information when they develop or update their contingency plans to local responders for easy access during an emergency. Because LQG contingency plans often can be lengthy, this will help local responders quickly obtain information that is most critical for immediate response to an event.

LQGs and SQGs are required to notify the EPA of their hazardous waste generation activities. Under the previous rule, SQGs only were required to notify the EPA of their status once. The new rule requires SQGs to re-notify every four years, unless their state has a more frequent notification requirement. This will help the EPA acquire more accurate, up-to-date information about SQGs.

In addition, the EPA has revised the regulations for labeling and marking containers and tanks to clearly indicate the nature of the hazardous waste contained inside. Previous RCRA labeling regulations did not require generators to identify and indicate the hazards of hazardous wastes accumulated in containers. The is updated in the new rule, and generators can use any established labeling method such as DOT or OSHA hazard statements. The labels are not required to include the identity of the contents of the container, only the types of hazards present.

The rule also contains several other clarifying and technical changes. The final rule went into effect on May 30, 2017, and authorized states are required to adopt the more stringent parts of the rule by July 1, 2018 (or July 1, 2019 if a state law change is needed). Facilities are encouraged to check with their state environmental agencies to determine the status of the adoption of these new regulations, or contact SGIA’s Government & Business Information Department at govtaffairs@sgia.org.