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If your business produces any hazardous or non-hazardous materials, you likely already know that you need to dispose all of it safely and legally. What types of businesses must comply with these laws? What constitutes hazardous rather than non-hazardous materials? Most importantly, why are all these regulations about hazardous and non-hazardous waste disposal important to your business?
01 / First things First: Hazardous vs. Non-Hazardous Waste
Understanding the difference between hazardous and non-hazardous wastes is the first step in determining what laws and regulations that apply to your business structure. To do that, you need to know what is meant by hazardous waste types and characteristics. Per the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) a hazardous waste can threaten human health and the environment.
Hazardous waste can be identified based on its properties, such as solid, liquid, or gaseous in nature. Such waste is also defined by its characteristics – is it toxic, corrosive, flammable (ignitable), or reactive (explosive) in nature?
Hazardous wastes are also listed by the EPA. For example:
F-listed wastes are common to industrial or manufacturing scenarios that produce non-specific source wastes such as degreasing solvents;
K-listed wastes (from a specific source) can include those used in the manufacture of pesticides or refining or petroleum;
P- and U-listed wastes are typical of commercially designed chemical products, and include discarded pharmaceutical products.
Hazardous waste regulations are found under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) – a regulatory arm of the EPA. This act forms the foundation for proper and compliant hazardous waste management. Keep in mind that the terms RCRA/EPA are often used interchangeably, as the EPA has the authority to oversee RCRA policies and guiding principles. Specific regulations regarding hazardous waste can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 40, Parts 260 through 273. Each section of these regulations can be accessed here.
Quite simply, a non-hazardous waste is one that does not pose a danger to human health but even so, may not simply be disposed of in ‘regular’ trash. Some industrials wastes, though not exactly dangerous, are still regulated.
Non-hazardous waste guidelines are covered under CFR Title 40, Parts 239 through 259 when it comes to solid wastes. These sections of the code guide waste management processes that include state permits and requirements, storage guidelines, and the criteria for solid waste landfills, among other topics.
02 / What Types of Companies must comply with proper Waste Disposal Processes?
What types of companies must comply with proper waste disposal? All businesses should properly segregate their waste and ensure that such waste streams are safely and compliantly separated, packaged, or stored per the regulations of not only your state, but the federal government. Identify hazardous from non-hazardous wastes and ensure they are sorted, stored and packaged appropriately, not only to save costs on disposal processes, but to ensure the safety of employees and the general public.
Obviously, any business, company, or manufacturer that creates hazardous or non-hazardous waste must comply with the laws or risk audits or inspections that identify instances of non-compliance, which can lead to massive fines (for some, up to $70,000 per day, per violation). Even if the amount of waste generated is very small, it still needs to be dealt with properly.
Some common industries or businesses that produce hazardous waste include the following:
Auto body shops
Printers, or anywhere that uses or produces flammable ink
Welding shops, or anywhere that performs etching
Medical care facilities and institutions
Especially with institutions such as tattoo parlors (which also must comply with biohazardous waste regulations), enforcement has stiffened, as have fines. Fines are assessed for a variety of infractions, such as storing or disposing of hazardous waste without a permit, without a manifest, or transportation to an unpermitted or authorized facility. Fines typically start at $50,000 per day, per infraction and can also come with doubled penalties for repeat offenders. Knowingly endangering others with exposure to hazardous waste can cost a business $250,000 or an organization $100,000 a day, per CFR Title 40: 260-265.
03 / What Qualifies as Non-hazardous Waste?
Do you have hazardous or non-hazardous waste? It can be difficult to immediately answer this question, as some wastes can have more than one characteristic, especially when it comes to chemicals. To be certain, you'll likely need analytical testing or thorough examination of relevant paperwork (SDS sheets, for example) by a qualified individual.
Some examples of common non-hazardous waste include the following:
If you know your business generates this waste type—no matter how small the quantity generated—then you need to follow the established protocol for disposal. Finding specific laws and regulations (state and federal) can be challenging based on your type of business and the volume or amount of hazardous or non-hazardous waste you generate on a monthly basis. This is where it’s important for any business to work with an experienced and knowledgeable waste management company.
04 / Why Should I Work with a Waste Management Company?
While it’s true that the disposal regulations and protocols for non-hazardous materials are less stringent than for hazardous materials, all wastes must be disposed of properly through a reputable environmental company. You can’t simply toss it in the dumpster without risking fines and penalties under the ‘Cradle to Grave’ approach to hazardous waste management.
You also need to ensure you're accurately segregating and identifying your waste types. If you erroneously dispose of hazardous material as non-hazardous waste and you're caught through an on-site hazardous waste audit, the fines could cripple your company.
Working with reputable, experienced waste management companies is akin to having an insurance policy. In the event of an audit, you'll be able to provide proof of your compliance through records and paperwork, such as all shipping manifests and bills of lading.
If you go it alone, there's no guarantee you'll know what paperwork is legally required or how to accurately fill out something like a hazardous waste manifest. This isn't just a financial issue, though. Repeated non-compliance could lead to your business being shut down or even more severe consequences. Improper disposal could also lead to health and safety issues—especially if hazardous materials are not properly treated prior to disposal.
For more information about all hazardous and non-hazardous waste disposal issues, reach out to a representative of MCF Environmental Services, a waste management company based in Atlanta that serves states throughout the country. With over three decades of experience, we know the laws that protect people and the environment.