Definitions of which materials are considered hazardous vary at the federal, state and county levels, and are constantly evolving with political, environmental and economic pressures.
In addition to these challenges, a number of trends are emerging to further complicate the industry and force major retailers to evaluate their environmental compliance programs. In 2014, digitalization, geographic shifts and a need for inventory optimization are developments that retailers will need to consider as they evaluate their approach to hazardous waste management.
While many businesses have already gone digital—take online banking or retail, for example—the EPA is playing catch up. In October 2012, President Obama signed into law the Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act, which directs that by 2015, the EPA must come up with a uniform plan to move from paper-based to digital documents for all of its records. Referred to as e-Manifest, this national system will extend to all federal- and state-regulated wastes.
The e-Manifest initiative will help waste generators by allowing them to complete manifests online with easy drop-down menus. It will also facilitate the tracking of shipments and provide confirmations that shipments have been received. Lastly it will help reduce the inefficiencies of paper record-keeping by centralizing the data electronically.
As the e-Manifest initiative takes shape, retailers will need to modernize their own compliance reporting environments for the digital era. To get ready for e-Manifest the EPA recommends that retailers:
- Participate in one of EPA’s system requirements meetings or webinars and help EPA to understand data systems used to track hazardous waste and generate manifests.
- Communicate with transporters and treatment storage and disposal facilities since they often supply the technology with which generators will participate in e-Manifest.
- Check the e-Manifest website regularly for new information as it becomes available.
Coastal states have historically been the drivers of compliance because of their proximity to watersheds and coastlines. But this is beginning to change as many landlocked states are now taking hazardous waste regulatory activity more seriously.
In the past, states such as California and Florida have led the charge when it comes to regulating retail hazardous waste disposal. But now, with greater focus from the EPA on a national level, retailers with facilities across the nation must divert their attention to areas not historically considered active sites of regulation.