While spring is typically the time of year we think of for cleaning, I find fall a good time to do it. I probably never got over the feeling of new beginnings that come with fall and school starting. So, as I was cleaning my garage this past weekend (which truth be told is really a four-season job), and thinking about the fact that I was my turn to write, I started contemplating what a manufacturer should be thinking about it when it is “cleaning house.”   By “cleaning house,” I mean off-spec product, or scrap, or just stuff lying around and taking up space, and getting rid of it.  While just tossing the material in the dumpster sounds like an easy solution, the rules governing how to dispose of no-longer-wanted “stuff” are anything but simple.  Furthermore, missteps can cause material to constitute “solid waste” or “hazardous waste,” triggering onerous reporting and handling requirements.

Quick background:  The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 USC 6901 et seq, is the law that governs hazardous waste, and the US Environmental Protection Agency has adopted regulations implementing RCRA, which are found at 40 CFR Parts 260 through 265.  EPA delegated authority to implement RCRA to many states, which means that the state regulations mirror, and are occasionally more stringent than, the federal regulations.

Here are a few things to consider:

First, is material still good product? By that I mean, is it still good for what it was intended. An example is wall paint in its original container, but you recently repainted all the walls in the facility a different color, so you no longer need the paint for touch-ups.   If you decide to just throw it out, you’ve discarded that paint, and it’s now “solid waste.”  Depending on the type of paint it is, it might now be “hazardous waste.”  Instead, perhaps you can sell or donate the paint.

If the material is not “good” any more, can it be reclaimed?  Certain materials are considered “solid waste” when reclaimed, while others are not. The answers are not intuitive, and you need to look at the regulations carefully.

Is there exclusion from the definition of “solid waste” that might apply? For example, shredded circuit boards (assuming certain rules are followed), certain process scrap metal and domestic sewage are all not a “solid waste.”

If the material is a solid waste, the next question is whether it is a hazardous waste.  There are two ways a waste can be a hazardous waste – it can be a listed waste; you just look at the lists to figure out whether your material is on one of them.  Alternatively a waste can “exhibit the characteristic of a hazardous waste.”  There are four characteristics – ignitability (based on flashpoint), corrosivity (based on pH), reactivity (unstable, or reacts with water, or can easily detonate), and toxicity (as determined by the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching procedure).

If you have a hazardous waste, it needs to be managed and disposed of properly. If your facility routinely generated hazardous waste, you already know what to do. If not, the rules governing “generators” of hazardous waste are even more cumbersome and complicated than those governing the definition of hazardous waste. It is important to not wait too long to dispose of the waste – the rules limit the time a hazardous waste can be stored. It is also important to make sure that proper paperwork is completed by the transporting company and retained by the generator.

So, enjoy the house cleaning, but be mindful!