Rule changes for hazardous waste
by Irwin Rapoport
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
“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.”
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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.”