Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires generators to identify, count, notify, manage, transport, and recycle, treat or dispose of hazardous waste. Of all of these steps, the one I find the most neglected is the first: Identifying hazardous waste. Often times the personnel I encounter know how each material in their facility is to be managed, but not why. When asked for a waste determination with details of how the material is classified workers are often bewildered. In most cases someone in the company did some evaluation decades ago. Written and up-to-date waste determinations, however, are not always available.


Image credit: EPA website


image credit: EPA website

EPA has issued a new guidance “Solvents in the Workplace: How to Determine if They Are Hazardous Waste” which will offer some help for solvent related materials. The document, issued June 16, 2016, provides numerous examples to provide needed clarity for generators in making determinations of whether or not used solvents or solvent contaminated materials in the workplace are hazardous waste. The document provides a path for making determinations and also addresses items such as recycling, remanufacturing, and solvent contaminated wipes.

The guidance follows a final rule dated January 13, 2015, which EPA published, that revised several recycling-related provisions associated with the definition of solid waste used to determine hazardous waste regulation under Subtitle C of RCRA. The purpose of these revisions was to ensure that the hazardous secondary materials recycling regulations, as implemented, encourage reclamation in a way that does not result in increased risk to human health and the environment from discarded hazardous secondary material. Three components of this rule affect the recycling of spent solvents:

  • EPA retained the exclusion for hazardous secondary materials that are legitimately reclaimed under the control of the generator (40 CFR section 261.4(a)(23));
  • EPA replaced the exclusions at 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(24) and (25) for hazardous secondary materials that are transferred from the generator to other persons for the purpose of reclamation with an exclusion for hazardous secondary materials sent for reclamation to a verified recycler. Under this exclusion, generators who want to recycle their hazardous secondary materials, such as spent solvents, without having them become hazardous wastes must send their materials to either a RCRA permitted reclamation facility or to a verified recycler of hazardous secondary materials who has obtained a solid waste variance from EPA or the authorized state; and
  • EPA finalized an exclusion from the definition of solid waste for certain higher-value solvents, such as toluene, xylenes, methanol, transferred from one manufacturer to another for recycling.

I recommend that generators document review and update their waste determinations periodically. Additionally, for those claiming to recycle solvents which would otherwise be hazardous wastes, be prepared to demonstrate how the materials fall within the current regulatory definitions of waste and how the recycling process meets the requirements of legitimacy. The 2015 Legitimacy Standard includes 4 codified factors (40 CFR 260.43):

  1. Hazardous secondary material must provide a useful contribution to the recycling process or to a product or intermediate;
  2. Recycling must produce a valuable product or intermediate;
  3. Hazardous secondary material must be managed as valuable commodities; and
  4. The product of recycling must be comparable to a legitimate product or intermediate.

image credit: EPA website

The 2015 Definition of Solid Waste webpage has a link to a “Suggested Legitimate Recycling Template” for use in documenting legitimacy criteria. Additionally, the webpage has a link for a Hazardous Secondary Material for Recycling (HSMR) voluntary label. This is recommended for use with such materials instead of labels which contain the word waste.

In general, the exclusions in the final rule do not go into effect unless and until the authorized state adopts them. States will be required, however, to adopt at minimum those provisions in the 2015 DSW rule that are more stringent than the current hazardous waste program. These include:

  1. prohibition of sham recycling and the definition of legitimate recycling (including contained definition),
  2. accumulation date tracking requirement for speculative accumulation provisions, and
  3. changes to the standards and criteria for the solid waste variance and non-waste determinations.

For more information on the solid and hazardous waste recycling regulations, see the Definition of Solid Waste for RCRA Subtitle C Hazardous Waste webpage. Generators often reach out to their commercial waste disposal companies or recyclers to help them with waste determines. Remember, as the generator of the waste you are ultimately responsible for making the correct determination, regardless of whom you contact for assistance. SMG works with clients to assist with various aspects of waste management. For more information, contact me at 502-587-6482 x 211 or