Businesses spend millions of dollars each year disposing of solvent-contaminated rags, towels and other wipes. Much of the high cost stems from the fact that, under existing regulations, wipes contaminated with hazardous substances must be disposed of as hazardous wastes. The EPA has wrestled with this issue since the 1980s, when industry first requested that solvent-contaminated wipes be excluded from hazardous waste regulation. Well, the much awaited exclusion is finally on the books, and the EPA predicts that it will affect more than 90,000 facilities and achieve net savings of between $21 and $28 million per year. The exclusion is set to become effective on January 31, 2014.
The EPA's final rule contains provisions for both reusable and disposable wipes. The rule modifies the definition of solid waste to conditionally exclude reusable solvent-contaminated wipes that are properly cleaned and reused. The rule also modifies the definition of hazardous waste to conditionally exclude disposable solvent-contaminated wipes that are properly disposed. As such, businesses that comply with the rule are no longer subject to the stringent hazardous waste regulations with respect to their rags and other wipes. For example, solvent-contaminated wipes managed in compliance with the final rule no longer have to be manifested when being sent off-site and may be sent to non-hazardous waste handling facilities.
The exclusion applies to wipes that, after use, either: 1) contain one or more F-listed, P-listed or U-listed solvents; 2) exhibit a hazardous characteristic resulting from a solvent listed in 40 CFR part 261; or 3) exhibit the hazardous characteristic of ignitability resulting from a non-listed solvent. The exclusion for disposable wipes does not apply, however, to wipes that are hazardous waste due to the presence of trichloroethylene.
The following conditions must be met to qualify for the exclusion:
Wipes must be accumulated, stored and transported in non-leaking, closed containers that can contain free liquids, should they occur.
Containers must be labeled "Excluded Solvent-Contaminated Wipes."
Accumulation Time Limits
Those who produce contaminated wipes (generators) may accumulate wipes up to 180 days from the start date of accumulation before sending them for cleaning or disposal.
No Free Liquids
Wipes must contain no free liquids before being sent for cleaning or disposal, and there may not be free liquid in the container holding the wipes.
Generators must maintain records, including: 1) name and address of the laundry, dry cleaner, landfill or combustor to which the wipes are sent; 2) documentation that the 180-day accumulation limit is being met; and 3) description of the process the generator uses to meet the "no free liquids" condition.
Management of Free Liquids
Free liquids removed from the wipes or from the wipes container must be managed according to applicable hazardous waste regulations in 40 CFR parts 260-273.
Eligible Handling Facilities
Reusable wipes must go to a laundry or dry cleaner whose discharge is regulated under sections 301 and 402 or section 307 of the Clean Water Act. Disposable wipes must go to either: 1) combustors that are regulated under section 129 of the Clean Air Act or under 40 CFR parts 264, 265 or 266 subpart H; 2) municipal solid waste landfills regulated under 40 CFR part 258; or 3) hazardous waste landfills regulated under 40 CFR parts 264 or 265.
It is important to note that the exclusion will not necessarily apply in all states. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act allows the EPA to authorize qualified states to administer the RCRA hazardous waste program within the state. Authorized state programs operate in lieu of federal regulation. Authorized states are required to modify their programs only when the EPA promulgates rules more stringent than existing federal rules. The solvent-contaminated wipes exclusion is less stringent than existing regulations; therefore, authorized states will not be required to adopt the exclusion. Check the status of your state's hazardous waste program before taking advantage of the exclusion.