If you generate waste at your manufacturing facility or other business, it’s imperative you know whether that waste is hazardous waste or not. Why is this so important? The type of waste you have (whether hazardous or non-hazardous) determines how you need to handle, transport, and dispose of it. Because the rules vary according to the waste type—and because the generator of the waste is always liable for that waste—the very first step in any hazardous waste management plan should be determining what you have. 

What’s the Difference Between Hazardous Waste and Non-Hazardous Waste?

What Is RCRA Hazardous Waste?

Before you can begin to make plans about disposing of hazardous waste, you’ll need to be able to answer this question: What is hazardous waste?

Hazardous materials fall into one of two categories. The first is listed hazardous waste. This refers to anything that the EPA or other federal bodies have specifically listed and named as hazardous. In terms of hazardous waste codes, these are either F, K, P, or U listed materials.

The other type of waste is characteristic hazardous waste. This is deemed hazardous because it is flammable, corrosive, reactive (with air, water, or anything else), or toxic. A hazardous waste code for this type of material is D listed. For example, D001 indicates ignitable waste, while D002 means corrosive waste.

Whether characteristic or listed, all these materials qualify as RCRA hazardous waste.

Analytical Testing

One method to determine with certainty whether you have nonhazardous waste or not is to have the material in question analyzed at a qualified, experienced lab.

If the test results show you do have non-hazardous waste, the permits required to transport that waste are much less stringent. The process for non-hazardous waste disposal is also less rigorous and involved than for hazardous material.

MSDS and SDS Sheets

The other major way to determine if you have non-hazardous material is through SDS sheets (safety data sheets). These documents (formerly known as the materials safety data sheet, or MSDS sheet) tell you exactly what chemicals are included in the product and the composition of that material.

It will also stipulate if transport of that material is regulated for DOT purposes. If it is, it’s an indication you have hazardous materials on hand—whether that’s because it’s flammable, corrosive, poisonous, etc.

Because of the recent global switch from MSDS to SDS sheets, you’re more likely to get a uniform, consistent, and accurate DOT description now. Just keep in mind that any product that’s a few years old might still have an associated MSDS sheet and less clear or explicit information about any DOT regulations.

If the documentation is incomplete or unclear, you’ll want to rely on analytical testing or a waste management company to deal with your potential hazardous waste treatment.

Full-Service Hazardous Waste Disposal Companies

If you’re looking to work with a hazardous waste disposal company, make sure that business offers full-service waste management. A full-service company will have the proper permitting, insurance, and licensing to legally identify, handle, and transport many waste types. They’ll also have the knowledge to know how to dispose of hazardous waste correctly.

Remember to be highly selective, though, about what company you choose. As the generator of that waste, you are legally liable for everything that happens with it—from its inception to its ultimate disposal. Even if you work with a third party, you are still responsible for the waste.

This is where expertise and experience come in. If you choose a company that determines you have non-hazardous materials (when they are in fact hazardous), this could lead to that company disposing of the waste in a landfill. The legal and financial liability for this oversight could be tremendous, so the hazardous waste management company you choose truly does matter.

For more information about how to properly identify hazardous waste or how to legally dispose of it, please feel free to contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services, a full-service Atlanta waste management company.