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JULY 2006

 

Rule changes for hazardous waste management looms

by Irwin RapoportE-mail the author

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to bring forth new rules regarding the recycling of hazardous wastes and both industry and regulatory bodies are concerned.

“There definitely has been a desire to change the rules to encourage more recycling,” says Karen Hale, the chair of the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials’ (ASTSWMO) hazardous waste recycling task force. “The EPA is coming out with a rule later this year that had been proposed a couple of years ago to change the regulations for hazardous waste recycling. The rule is meant to promote more recycling, but no one knows yet what the details are.”

The initial EPA proposal was to permit hazardous waste recycling between companies in the same industry, such as two paint manufacturing companies that might be able to recycle each other’s waste for use in their manufacturing process. If such a relationship were established, the exchanged materials would not be subject to full hazmat regulations.

On-site recycling programs run by the manufacturer of the waste are also being considered for more relaxed regulation.

“There would be a legitimacy criteria companies would need to follow that would include certain management and storage practices.” says Hale.

It was further proposed that a broad exclusion from regulation be affected for any materials sent to a legitimate recycler.

“Companies would be subject to regulations, but not under the current hazardous waste rules,” said Hale.

Should the EPA relax the current rules, individual states would have the authority to toughen local legislation. Twenty-five states submitted comments to the EPA, with 11 states in favor of the EPA’s proposal.

“But 14 states wanted a different approach,” says Hale. “They had different suggestions and they were all tailored to the way things were done in their states.”

ASTSWMO is keen to maintain the infrastructure for recycling and to promote recycling.

ASTSWMO also wants a notification system that will follow the waste stream from beginning to end. “If the waste is going to be recycled, we would like to know whose waste it was and who is going to recycle it. When a company is out of the system, it doesn’t have to tell us what they are recycling. You eventually find out, but we don’t have a database.” says Hale.

The EPA rules will also cover e-waste (electronic waste), a growing problem across the nation.

“The states did have some concerns about the export of the waste stream,” says Hale. “Product stewardship is a concept that has been talked about – manufacturers designing their products so that it is easier to recycle them.”

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) believes that the EPA erred when their regulations equated recycling with waste disposal. Various courts have told the EPA that Congress intended the term “solid waste” to be limited to materials that are discarded because they are being disposed of, abandoned, or thrown away.

The chemical industry now recycles about 1.45 million tons annually of secondary materials that EPA has designated as “waste.” ACC members take into account common-sense conditions when making recycling decisions, and those conditions, as well as the liability associated with materials mishandling, provides what the ACC deems to be sufficient protection to allow for the removal of all legitimate recycling operations from the definition of “waste.”

“It is true that many Superfund sites from years past did result from unscrupulous or short-sighted ‘waste entrepreneurs,’” says Robert Elam, ACC’s director, regulatory and technical affairs, “generators of secondary materials found contaminating these sites paid enormous clean-up costs to remedy these past practices.

“In today’s legal and regulatory environment, no responsible generator would take the chance of facing such liability,” he adds. “The desire to avoid any potential liability will remain a goal of generators of secondary material whether or not EPA identifies those materials as ‘waste.’”

The ACC fully supports EPA’s broad option to encourage the legitimate recycling of secondary materials.

“The broad option recognizes that legitimately recycled materials are valuable materials, not ‘waste,’” said Elam. “If the broader exclusion is adopted, ACC supports the notification and speculative accumulation requirements set out by the EPA in the proposal.

“And though we believe that more detailed recordkeeping or reporting requirements are unnecessary - EPA’s existing legitimacy criteria already prohibit handling secondary materials in a sloppy manner,” he added “limiting changes to the definition of ‘waste’ to the EPA’s proposed narrow options would be a missed opportunity to enhance industrial recycling and resource recovery.”

The Environmental Technology Council (ETC) represents companies that treat and recycle hazardous waste. Scott Slesinger, the ETC’s vice president for government affairs, notes that anything can be recycled, but “that it doesn’t make sense to recycle everything. Economics are the key to what can be recycled.”

Products that can be recycled include: used and spent solvents, items from computers, especially plastics and valuable metals, metals such as zinc and copper and glycol.

“Some materials, such as solvents, can be used as an energy source,” says Slesinger. “A lot of organic wastes have very high levels of BTUs.”

With the economics of recycling rising and falling, commodities set the tone and in today’s market, oil and metal products are commanding good fees.

Federal and state grants and tax breaks are offered for certain niche markets and says Slesinger, “states are passing laws to encourage computer recycling to get it out of the regular trash.”

By law, e-waste from commerce is treated as a hazardous waste, but e-waste from homes is exempted. With some states determined to extend the life of existing landfills, legislation is now changing the rules for residential-based e-waste.

Europe is taking the lead in dealing with e-waste, requiring parts to be designed so that they can be recycled more easily.

“There are certain laws in Europe that are going to require that,” says Slesinger, “and based on the fact that the computer market is pretty international, we expect domestic companies to follow those standards.”

In general, the ETC believes that federal legislation can be toughened in several areas.

This includes increasing the list of materials that are considered to be hazardous.

“Styrene, which is used to make plastics, is one that I would pick out as the most prevalent,” says Slesinger. “The EPA is looking to take more things out of the hazardous waste world, so we’re fighting more of a defensive effort right now.”

The ETC shares many of the concerns expressed by ASTSWMO, such as regulatory issues and a manifest system for recycling materials.

“Our companies all meet federal standards for dealing with hazardous waste,” says Slesinger. “We have EPA permits and so on. The EPA would argue that if you took off the regulations, more would be recycled. We dispute that. Our analysis of the EPA proposal shows that the choice is not between recycling and disposal, but between regulated and unregulated recycling. We believe the evidence is overwhelming that most wastes that can be recycled economically are already recycled.

“We come down on the side that if you are recycling toxic hazardous materials, it is much better to do it in a regulatory regime than in an unregulated one,” he adds. “These wastes are dangerous. If they are to be recycled properly, you need people who are regulated and know what they are doing to protect the environment.

“We have a whole history of Superfund sites caused by recyclers who didn’t do it right,” he adds. “Commodity prices fluctuate and new recycling companies can’t meet their expenses and those are the types of companies that cause environmental catastrophes.”

The EPA indicated that the rule change is progressing according to schedule. “However,” said EPA press officer, Roxanne Smith, “many things can impact regulation development schedules, from the availability of new information to Office of Management and Budget review.”


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