If you're in an industry where you generate waste, it's imperative that you know exactly how to properly, legally, and safely deal with that waste. A big part of that issue involves correct shipping methods. If you're creating and shipping waste, be aware of the terms "manifest" and "bill of lading." You'll need to know the differences, when they're used, and how to properly fill them out.

Important Differences between a Waste Manifest and Bill of Lading


Are Manifests and Bills of Lading the Same?

No. These are two separate documents that are used in very different situations, and it's essentially important for safety and legal reasons that each be used in the correct scenario.

What's a Manifest?

A universal hazardous waste manifest is a piece of paperwork required by the federal bodies of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) in order to legally transport hazardous waste materials. That paperwork contains relevant information about the specific hazardous materials being transported (class of hazardous material, how much is being transported, etc.), emergency contact numbers, generator's EPA identification number (if applicable), and much more.

What Are Bills of Lading?

This document, on the other hand, is used to transport other materials such as biomedical waste. This waste is also known as regulated waste, regulated medical waste, or even red bag waste. These documents can also be used to transport empty containers or the contents of document destruction. Essentially it's a piece of paperwork that often accompanies waste that is not deemed hazardous.

Are These Documents Interchangeable?

While both are documents used in the movement of materials from one area to another, they are not the same and can't be used interchangeably. If you have hazardous materials, you are required to use a hazardous waste manifest. This kind of waste cannot be shipped with a bill of lading.

While it's very uncommon in the industry for these items to be shipped without any paperwork, it is conceivable that the paperwork might not be properly filled out. This could entail any number of errors, such as:

  • Not providing the right emergency response number.
  • Not having the right parties sign the paperwork.
  • Improperly identifying the class of hazardous waste being transported.

Why Does This Paperwork Matter?

Some people think of paperwork as extraneous bureaucratic steps in the shipping process, but a manifest or a bill of lading is an essential piece in the safe transport of materials.

Particularly when it comes to hazardous material, the manifest will contain information that alerts first responders about exactly what to do in case of an accident or spill. That is, the specific material transported will dictate how it needs to be cleaned. It matters, for example, if that material is flammable, corrosive, or reactive. It could mean wearing different personal protective gear, or it could change whether you want to put water on the spilled materials.

A properly filled out hazardous waste manifest will correctly identify the materials and codify the emergency response number. This numeric listing ensures all first responders know exactly what they're dealing with and how to remedy the situation quickly and effectively to minimize environmental damage and keep people as safe as possible.

Paperwork and Waste Management Companies

Because the stakes are potentially so high if this paperwork is done inaccurately, it's imperative that you seek out a professional, reputable, and experienced waste management company if you're uncertain about how to properly document what you're shipping. There are a lot of components to a manifest (and to a lesser extent a bill of lading), and you need to ensure it's done right. This not only protects the environment and people in case of any accident or emergency involving the waste, but it's also the generator's legal responsibility to make sure that paperwork is correct. Liability falls to the generator if there are mistakes, so reaching out to a professional is often best for every party involved.

For more information about all relevant paperwork and other proper packing and shipping protocol, please contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services, one of the best medical waste management companies in Georgia.