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Waste & Solid Waste: Identification, Criteria and Self-Assessment Checklist

elliot, jon, specialty technical publishersFederal and state laws govern “hazardous waste”—the federal law is commonly called RCRA, after the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. However, RCRA itself was enacted as an expansion of the prior Solid Waste Disposal Act (SWDA) of 1965, and requirements for both solid and hazardous waste have been revised many times in recent decades. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers these requirements nationally, delegating many provisions to individual states that qualify for authorization to assume regulatory roles.

This article summarizes the first half of provisions under which the facility that first produces hazardous wastes—the “generator”—determines if a material has become a “waste” and, if so, whether that waste is “solid waste.” My next article will summarize provisions for determining whether a “solid waste” qualifies as a “hazardous waste.”

Is My Material A “Waste”?

SWDA and RCRA are only triggered once a material has become a waste. Typically this transformation is obvious—chemicals go into a process, and come out contaminated and unusable. But other scenarios can also convert materials into wastes.

EPA’s regulations include additional qualifiers. According to these regulations, in order to be considered a solid waste, a solid material generally must be “discarded,” which means any one of the following:

  1. Abandoned
  2. Recycled 
  3. “Inherently wastelike” 
  4. Military munitions.

Materials may become abandoned by being disposed of, burned or incinerated, or accumulated, stored, or treated (but not recycled) before or instead of being disposed of, burned, or incinerated. Note that the “instead of” can introduce a subjective element, which inspectors sometimes use to question the purpose why materials are still there – if you can’t tell an inspector what use is planned for suspect chemicals, then he or she may decide it’s being accumulated instead of being disposed. If so, your facility might be penalized for exceeding time limits on accumulation.

RCRA considers recycling to be a good thing, when it meets regulatory standards. EPA excludes materials from its definition of solid waste when they are recycled in any of the following ways:

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