If you run a dry cleaning business, it's essential that you properly dispose of hazardous waste created through dry cleaning processes. All dry cleaners must safely dispose of PERC hazardous waste and hydrocarbons, not only to protect public health but also the environment.

Failure to follow federal and state guidelines when it comes to the storage, transportation, or disposal of hazardous waste can lead to massive fines and penalties by more than one agency. Environmental preservation and protection is key, so take steps to safeguard your business, your employees, and your customers.

Promoting safety means understanding how to identify, transport, and dispose of perchloroethylene (PERC), hydrocarbons, and/or any other hazardous material or byproduct created through dry cleaning practices. A number of hazardous waste by-products are produced or generated by dry cleaning processes. Know and understand what they are.

01   /   What are PERC and Hydrocarbon Wastes?

To maintain compliance in waste management and processes for any dry cleaning business, it’s important to know the chemicals that you use in your business. One of those chemicals is known as perchloroethylene (PERC). It is also known as tetrachloroethylene

Perchloroethylene is a solvent that is still used by dry many cleaners to help remove dirt and stains from a number of clothing fabrics. The acronym ‘PERC’ is an umbrella term that defines a number of such common cleaning solvents within the industry.

These PERCS are, at their simplest definition, pollutants. Many have been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as carcinogens. These chemicals can cause health issues resulting from both short-term and long-term exposure on the respiratory tract, the kidneys, and the neurological system, among others.

While use of PERC chemicals have declined over the past twenty years or so, they are still in use in many neighborhoods throughout the country. However, dry cleaning businesses around the world using PERCS have gradually been phased out in residential areas in favor of safer alternatives. In 2021, the EPA mandated that PERC dry cleaning machines be moved from residential buildings in the U.S. Some states have followed suit.

Prior to turning to PERC use, many dry cleaners in the past used solvents that contained hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons were (and are) extremely flammable. As PERC use has been slowly phased out, many dry-cleaners are returning to hydrocarbon solvents. In 2018, Washington State published a final report on the use of high-flashpoint hydrocarbon solvents that is recommended reading for the industry. In the past, some hydrocarbons were identified by some states (such as Washington) as extremely hazardous waste.

Know what you’re dealing with. Understanding and use of chemical Safety Data Sheets (SDS) have proven beneficial in educating and ensuring safety for all businesses and industries that use chemicals.

02   /   Properly Identify Chemical Products and Byproducts Using Safety Data Sheets

A dry cleaner should identify the type of waste generated by their business - either hazardous waste as dictated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), or non-regulated waste.

Safety data sheets provide information that includes but is not limited to a product’s chemical properties, health hazards of those chemicals – physical and environmental – protection measures, safety precautions during handling, storage instructions and transportation advice. More information on safety data sheets can be found from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) here. These sheets also include first-aid and fire-fighting measures. 

Identifying any cleaning product used by a dry cleaner can be found within the manufacture’s safety data sheets (known as SDSs) that accompany all chemical supplies and products used within the industry. These safety sheets are an excellent source for determining if the materials are technically hazardous or not. However, be aware that some state governing bodies have the authority to insist on additional analytical testing to confirm the status of a product (hazardous or not). This order can override a company's interpretation of SDSs.

Identifying potentially dangerous chemicals is only the first step in compliant and safe hazardous waste management. Storage of such products, and dealing with any PERC or hydrocarbon waste, is also vital for the safety those handling that waste, the general public, and the environment.

03   /   Proper Containers for Hazardous Materials

Disposing of anything hazardous means more than just separating it from standard, non-regulated waste. It is your responsibility to place anything determined as hazardous in the proper containers. That implies that you must accurately profile and identify those hazardous materials - including but not limited to PERC or hydrocarbons.

Compliant use of hazardous waste containers, their storage times and location, and transportation and disposal processes can be detailed and often confusing, especially when state guidelines are more stringent than those of the federal government. You must abide by both.

Turning to a hazardous waste management company such as MCF Environmental Services can help ensure that you are not only paying attention to safety, but that such waste is properly disposed of. In such cases, you will be given UN-rated containers that are complaint with standards of federal and state hazardous waste laws.

Know what is required in your state. Guidance can be found within state government Departments of Natural Resources or state Environmental Protection Agencies. If in doubt, contact your local city or county government for access to resources. Some states require dry cleaners to place waste containers on secondary containment trays. If you're unsure of the regulations used in your state, ask your qualified, licensed waste management company for confirmation or guidance.

04   /   Transportation and Disposal of Hazardous Materials

Once the relevant material has been identified and containerized, it is ready to transport off-site. Ensure that you are working with a licensed waste management company that is permitted to handle hazardous waste. Make sure that all permits and licensing are up to date and specific to hazardous waste transport as well. All containers must contain appropriate and accurate labels and placards to ensure that anyone who handles those containers knows exactly what is stored in each one. Turn to 40 CFR Part 262 – Standards Applicable to Generators of Hazardous Waste for guidance on regulations for hazardous waste labels. 

The licensed and permitted waste management company will take all identified, labeled, and containerized hazardous material to a licensed, permitted waste treatment, storage, and disposal facility (TSDF).

As a dry cleaner (or any entity that generates hazardous waste), make sure the waste hauler furnishes all relevant documentation to confirm waste was both properly transported and disposed of. This paperwork should include multiple universal waste manifest copies. If the waste is designated as RCRA hazardous PERC, land disposal restriction forms must also be provided.

05   /   Turn to Experts for PERC or Hydrocarbon Hazardous Waste Disposal

If your dry cleaning business produces any hazardous materials, find a hazardous waste management company that is equipped and able to handle that material. An experienced and knowledgeable company can also conduct tests to determine what's hazardous and provide full analytical reports of the findings that meet the rigid standards set out by state-governing bodies.

 For more information about how dry cleaners must properly identify, transport, and dispose of any dry cleaning hazardous waste material (PERC, hydrocarbons, and more), contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services, a dry cleaner and hazardous waste disposal company based in Georgia and serving states throughout the country.

Robert Losurdo

President, COO