The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and rules promulgated by U.S. EPA under RCRA regulate “hazardous” wastes generated by U.S. businesses. Under these laws, certain products that can be placed in the trash by homeowners must be managed as “hazardous” wastes by commercial retail stores when they become unusable or unsellable. The legal regime for managing these retail sector “hazardous” wastes is the same that applies to heavy industries including petrochemical, automotive manufacturing, and mining of metals.
EPA acknowledges that these existing hazardous waste rules present special challenges and burdens for the retail sector. Ongoing communications with retail representatives have highlighted some of these concerns, but EPA is asking for more input. In a February 14, 2014 Federal Register notice, EPA solicited public comments and additional data that could help the Agency improve this situation, including, surprisingly, cost estimates associated with managing hazardous wastes. This information request is timely given a series of recent state and federal hazardous waste enforcement actions brought against retailers that have resulted in millions of dollars of penalties and settlements requiring extensive upgrades to waste management systems. These sorts of remedial requirements can be particularly challenging in the retail sector where they involve replicating expensive hazardous waste management systems at tens, hundreds, or even thousands of retail stores as well as throughout the companies’ distribution centers.
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