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August 28 , 2002

Cradle to Grave -The Life and Times of Hazardous Waste
(Part 1)

By Sean M. Alvarez, CSP

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) enacted in 1976 yielded a complex assortment of regulations governing the management of hazardous waste from "cradle to grave".  Under RCRA, states were given the option to develop their own hazardous waste management programs which, upon approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), operate in lieu of the federal program in that state.

This article is intended to provide a general overview of RCRA and state hazardous waste management programs and is not intended to be all-inclusive.  It is wise to consult both federal and state hazardous waste laws and a hazardous waste expert before generating or disposing of hazardous waste.


Most companies, both big and small, generate some form of waste as a by-product of their business efforts.  From office trash to wastewater to process waste, virtually no business is waste-free.  Even the average household generates waste.  Think about your home sewage and trash pickup.  Think about the empty bottle of bleach, fluorescent light bulbs or used oil.  Waste is generated by nearly everyone, everyday.

However, not all waste is the same.  Some waste may be considered "hazardous".  Such waste must be managed differently in order to protect life and the environment both today and for decades to come.

If your business generates hazardous waste, it is important for you to understand and follow the waste management rules affecting you and/or your business in order to  properly manage that hazardous waste.

There are three fundamental components to the proper management of hazardous waste:

  • Accurate Waste Determination (reference 40 CFR 261 and state equivalent)

  • Proper Handling (reference 40 CFR 262 and state equivalent)

  • Safe Transportation and Disposal (reference 40 CFR 263/264 and state equivalent)

Accurate Waste Determination

Accurate waste determination is the cornerstone of proper waste management.  You must first determine how both RCRA and your state classify the material in question so that you may properly manage it.   You will need to determine if the material in question is a solid waste or a hazardous waste.

Is the material a solid waste?

The first thing you need to do is to determine is if the material is a solid waste.  In order for something to be considered a hazardous waste and be subject to regulation, it must typically first be considered a solid waste.

The term "solid waste" has nothing to due with the physical state of the material.   The term does have to do with whether the material is abandoned, discarded, accumulated, used or reused, reclaimed or recycled, etc.

Simply put, if your material has served its primary purpose and is ready to be disposed of, it may be considered a solid waste. Both RCRA and many states have definitions and exceptions to the definition of solid waste.  Be sure to consult the regulations specifically when determining whether your material is a solid waste.

Is the material a hazardous waste?

Once you know if your material is a solid waste, you must determine whether it is a hazardous waste.  You do this by evaluating the answers to the following questions:

1. Does the waste meet any RCRA exclusions?

Your material may be considered a hazardous waste if it is not specifically excluded.

2. Is the waste a RCRA listed waste?

RCRA has specifically listed certain solid wastes as hazardous wastes.  These "listed" wastes are either from non-specific sources (F-wastes), specific sources (K-wastes) and commercial spec/off-spec chemical products (P and U-wastes).

A review of the F,K,P,U lists found in the regulation will help you in making your determination.

3. Is the waste a RCRA characteristic waste?

In determining if a material is a characteristic waste, it is wise to have a lab analysis performed on the material itself.  Characteristics of hazardous waste include flammability, corrosivity, reactivity and toxicity.

Many of the tests for toxicity simulate what substances might come off the material if it were placed into a landfill and exposed to landfill-like conditions.  The toxicity of the "leachate" could cause your material to be considered hazardous.

4. Does the waste meet any state exclusions?

A solid waste may be considered a hazardous waste if your state does not specifically excluded it.  Be sure to check you state statutes and regulations.

5. Is the waste a state listed waste?

Many states have their own list of "listed" wastes.  Be sure to consult your state regulations.

6. Is the waste a state characteristic waste?

Many states use the same flammable, corrosive, reactive, toxic criteria for determining if a waste is characteristic.  However, many states also require testing that is much stricter than that of RCRA. 

One such example is in toxicity tests.  Passing the RCRA required tests do not necessarily mean that your material will pass the state test.  In many cases, both tests may be required.

There are other regulations pertaining to the determination of a hazardous waste that you'll need to familiarize yourself with.  These include such items as Universal Waste (batteries, pesticides, thermostats, etc), Extremely Hazardous Waste, Special Waste or other type of specially classified wastes.

Accurate waste determination is the foundation of your waste management program.  Familiarizing yourself with applicable waste determination laws and regulations will help to ensure a solid start to proper waste management.

More information on waste determination may be obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency waste website.

Copyright © 2002 by WorkCare™ All Rights Reserved


Next Month’s article:  Cradle to Grave Part 2 - Proper Handling/Safe Transportation and Disposal


See you next month, editor@osh.net

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