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Hazardous Waste Compliance a Balancing Act at the Retail Level

rozembajgier, mike, stericycleToday, hazardous waste compliance is no longer just an issue for the industrial or manufacturing industries. It’s become an area of significant concern for retailers as well. When it comes to managing hazardous waste, retailers are in a precarious balance of complexity and control due to a number of factors. As many high profile fines against retailers underscore, the financial repercussions of failing to strike the right balance can be significant. Not only do such infractions place a monetary burden on retailers, public fines can also negatively impact a brand’s reputation. With consumer loyalty at stake, it’s safe to estimate that negative news and the reputation damage to a brand could cost a company millions in lost sales in addition to these fines. In light of these variables, it’s critical that retailers strike the right balance to comply with today’s hazardous waste regulations.

With that in mind, the following are just a few challenges of hazardous waste management for retailers.

Geographic variances

Definitions of which materials are considered hazardous can vary at the federal, state and county levels, and are constantly evolving with political, environmental and economic pressures. Coastal states have historically been the drivers of compliance because of their proximity to watersheds and coastlines, however, many landlocked regions are now increasing their regulatory oversight. In addition to this geographic shift, the EPA is bringing an increased focus on compliance at a national level. These factors mean that retailers who have directed compliance program investments solely within the historically most active regions face new vulnerabilities.

Limited footprint

State and federal agencies task retailers with adhering to regulations originally designed for the manufacturing industry, which deals with a drastically smaller set of materials and is thus better able to separate and store hazardous waste. The process of managing, reporting, tracking and disposing of hazardous materials can present significant challenges for retailers, however. Household products ranging from paints and batteries to bleach, detergents, and pesticides all contain toxic chemicals which, if not managed properly, can be hazardous to human health and the environment.

In addition to a much wider variety of hazardous materials, retail locations have a significantly smaller footprint than their manufacturing counterparts. As such, proper storage of hazardous materials poses a much greater challenge. Retailers must segregate all unsalable products into one of the following categories: 1.) returnable to the manufacturer, 2.) able to be reused via donation, 3.) able to be resold or 3.) waste material. Next, the retailer has to further classify the waste materials as hazardous, non-hazardous or universal waste in compliance with federal and various state regulations. The products classified as hazardous waste must be properly separated from other waste material and stored until they can be removed and, ultimately, destroyed.

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One thought on “Hazardous Waste Compliance a Balancing Act at the Retail Level

  1. As the head of a compliance department for a medium-sized regulated (who isn’t) entity, my heart bleeds for those multi-billion dollar corporations who are only now being required to come into compliance with environmental regulations. I totally agree with your concluding paragraph, (paraphrasing) if you do not know what to do, get assistance.
    Most of us who have been regulated for years, understand that you must have knowledge and an understanding of what you have on site, or do that is regulated. For those entities that are puzzled by the complexity of chemical management, they can make their job easier by not carrying those highly regulated products. But if they choose to carry them, because the public wants them, and that is where their profit exists, then they have no choice but to comply with the law.
    Pollution prevention is a growing portion of business sustainability, which includes getting out of inventory those products that cause you to be regulated, except for where the product absolutely must be used. Do the math, if compliance costs more than the profit on the item, get rid of the item, there ARE substitutes. Maybe, by not carrying the regulated product, business could help protect the public from making bad purchase decisions: buying a product that, when improperly used, can cause adverse health effects, or environmental consequences. Just because you can buy it at a “big box” store, does not mean the product is without toxic effects. After all, that is where a lot of my industry buys its products.

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