With all the hubbub in Washington DC lately, it’s been largely overlooked that some of the regulatory changes that started under the previous administration are only now coming to fruition.
For example, the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvement Rule went into effect on the federal level on May 30, 2017 by amending parts of the regulations promulgated pursuant to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). RCRA was passed in 1976 and provides the national regulatory framework for solid and hazardous waste management. These changes will become effective in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and other states with authorized hazardous waste programs as the states update their regulations.
RCRA’s ‘generator requirements,’ haven’t changed much in the last thirty years—the last major change happened in 1984. The new requirements address the process by which a person or company who generates a waste: 1) evaluates whether or not it’s a hazardous waste or a solid waste; 2) stores the waste and prepares it for transport; and 3) maintains records of the waste’s generation and treatment, recycling or other management.
Changes in Hazardous Waste Generation
Industry has changed a great deal since RCRA went into effect. In the last ten years, the amount of hazardous waste generated in Massachusetts has dropped from 1,121,752 tons in 2001 to 39,108 tons in 2015, even as the number of registered waste generators nearly doubled (EPA Biennial Hazardous Waste Report, 2001 and 2015). Interestingly, EPA national biennial reports indicate the quantity of RCRA waste generated in Massachusetts didn’t change very much between 1985 (114,381 tons) and 2001, although there was some fluctuation as EPA added new categories of generators and wastes to RCRA. The general trend over time has led to there being fewer Large Quantity Generators, and many more Very Small Quantity Generators, so that a representative slice of the modern population of generators consists mostly of auto repair businesses, retail stores, pharmacies, and small manufacturing operations rather than the large factories and sprawling chemical plants of the 1970s and early 1980s.
This changing waste generation demographic (for lack of a better word) matters a lot, since compliance with these generator requirements generally happens at the ‘factory floor’ level, and while Kodak or Monsanto plants had chemical engineering departments to help with waste characterization and management, small shops generally don’t.
While the new rule makes over 60 changes to the RCRA regulations, its main goal is to clarify the ‘front end’ generator requirements. Some of these changes are major; others involve only routine regulatory housekeeping; and some are potential compliance pitfalls for generators. Several of these changes dovetail with EPA’s 2015 changes to the Definition of Solid Waste, which opened up expanded opportunities for recycling certain materials rather than requiring that they be handled as solid or hazardous wastes.
Other changes in the new rule include:
- Under some circumstances, Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQGs) will be allowed to send hazardous waste to a large quantity generator (LQG) that is under the control of the same “person” for consolidation before the waste is shipped to a RCRA-designated treatment, storage or disposal facility (TSDF). This is most likely to benefit large “chain” operations, such as retail stores, pharmacies, health care organizations with many affiliated medical practices, universities, and automotive service franchise operations.
- One of the common problems for VSQGs or SQGs is that since generator status is determined by the quantity of wastes generated, sometimes exceptional events (such as a spill or process line change) occur which bump them up into the Large Quantity Generator category, triggering many other regulatory requirements even if the status change is only for the space of a single month. The Generator Improvement Rule would allow a VSQG or SQG to maintain its existing generator category following such events, as long as certain criteria were met..
- The addition of an explanation of how to quantify wastes and thus determine generator status.
- Changes to the requirements for Satellite Accumulation Areas, and for the first time, a formal definition of a Central Accumulation Area.
- An expanded explanation of when, why and how a hazardous waste determination should be made, and what records must be kept. The final rule does not include requirements proposed in the initial rule that generators keep records of these determinations until a facility closes. The rule also recognizes that most generators base their waste determinations on knowledge of the ingredients and processes that produce a waste, rather than laboratory testing.
- Clearer requirements for facilities that recycle hazardous waste without storing it.
- Small Quantity Generators will have to re-notify their generator status every four years.
- A clarification of which generator category applies if a facility generates both acute and non-acute hazardous waste (for example, a pharmacy that generates waste pharmaceuticals that are P-listed acute hazardous wastes).
- Revising the regulations for labeling and marking of containers and tanks
- “Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators” will be renamed Very Small Quantity Generators, a term already used in many states including Massachusetts.
- Large and Small Quantity Generators will need to provide additional information to Local Emergency Planning Committees as part of their contingency plans
The new rule also contains several expanded sections on exemptions applicable to wastes together with a distinction between “conditional requirements,” such as those which would qualify a waste for an exemption, and ‘independent requirements,” such as container labeling and spill prevention, which are mandatory across the board.
In addition, the rule makes many relatively minor changes, such as updated references to other regulations and rearranging portions of the Code of Federal Regulations text into a more intuitive order.
As with any new or revised regulation, we can expect a learning curve, particularly as implementation filters down to the state agencies. In the meantime, EPA has the Final Rule on its website, along with several fact sheets and FAQs