New hazardous waste rules will limit retailers’ ability to recycle or reuse unsold consumer products and pharmaceuticals and could cost retailers millions — if not billions — annually, according to a handful of trade associations.
The EPA proposed the waste management regulations in September in an attempt to protect waterways and reduce burden on companies by providing greater flexibility in how facilities and employees manage hazardous waste, the agency says.
The Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements rule would allow businesses that produce small amounts of hazardous waste to consolidate these wastes from multiple locations at a “large quantity generator” site, thus avoiding strict rules and higher regulatory burdens that apply to businesses producing large amounts of hazardous waste.
“Many businesses could see their generator status change, which will impact the way they are expected to handle, record and dispose of their hazardous waste,” Mike Rozembajgier, vice president of environmental and regulated waste management firm Stericycle Environmental Solutions, tells Environmental Leader. “Businesses large and small must monitor the proposed rule change, and determine how to remain compliant to avoid EPA fines, maintain brand reputation and keep employees and the public safe from improperly handled hazardous waste.”
The EPA’s second proposal, the Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals rule, sets regulations on how healthcare facilities, including retail stores and pharmacies, manage and dispose of pharmaceutical waste.
Rules ‘Fall short’ of Easing Retails’ Burden
In comments submitted to the EPA about the proposed regulations, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), the National Grocers Association (NGA), and the National Retail Federation (NRF) say the new rules may impact the handling of unsold consumer products and pharmaceuticals by retailers.
“Although portions of the proposals may offer some relief, the suggested frameworks fall short of easing the burden on retailers who want to manage unsold products in a more sustainable fashion, rather than discarding potentially useful or recyclable items,” says Sue Pifer, vice president of compliance at RILA. “The Retail Associations again emphasize in their comments that most unsold consumer products and pharmaceuticals are not ‘wastes,’ due to the fact that many are suitable for re-shelving, donation, recycling, liquidation or shipment back to vendors for credit.”
While the Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals would provide retailers well over $40 million per year in regulatory relief by classifying smoking cessation products, like low-concentration nicotine patches, gums and lozenges, as “acute” hazardous waste, the Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements proposal would impose significant new costs, the retailers say. They estimate this rule, which would require recordkeeping for non-hazardous waste determinations, would cost be $26.4 million in the first year, and $2.64 million per year after on the low-end. The associations’ high-end estimates are$1.375 billion in the first year, and $344 million per year after.
Pifer told Environmental Leader that the associations are committed to working with the EPA on the new regulations and said they hope to see changes in the final rules.
“Retailers are committed to managing unsold consumer products in a more sustainable fashion, but believe the proposals do not reflect the unique challenges faced by the retail sector in reverse distribution,” Pifer says. “Specifically, retailers believe that waste generator status should be based on average generation rate over time and that unsold consumer products should not be considered solid waste when retailers send most of those products in good condition back to a distributor or reverse logistics center.
“Lastly, retailers view the reverse distribution of prescription pharmaceuticals and reverse logistics of OTCs and dietary supplements as essential business operations, not waste management activities. For that reason, retailers request that the EPA clarify that pharmaceuticals are not solid wastes if they are destined for use, reuse, or reclamation.”
How to Eliminate Water Contaminants
On the heels of the hazardous waste management proposals, the Water Research Foundation (WRF) has announced a new project that will seek to improve understanding of current practices to reduce the loading of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) being discharged from hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
The project, Hospital Discharge Practices and Contaminants of Emerging Concern in Water (Project #4616), will investigate the current regulations and discharge practices for hazardous materials in the healthcare industry and aims to provide data that can be used to help the healthcare industry take action to reduce pharmaceuticals entering the water system.
“Our hope is that this project will improve the general knowledge of how health care facilities discharge wastewater and the effects on contaminants of emerging concern in water,” WRF executive director Rob Renner told Environmental Leader. “Having a better understanding of these effects will give the healthcare and water communities the information and tools they need to operate in a manner that preserves the safety of drinking and surface water.”