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November 2003

EPA's Proposed Regulation Changes Could Increase Recovery of Metals, Solvents and Usable Materials

The EPA announced a proposed change to federal hazardous waste management regulations that could significantly increase the recovery of metals, solvents and other usable materials.

This action, which reaffirms EPA’s long-standing policy of promoting material reuse and recovery over land disposal, could make it easier to possibly recycle more than one million tons of hazardous waste annually, and encourage recovery of valuable materials worth an estimated one billion dollars yearly.

“By reclaiming reusable metals, solvents and other valuable materials from wastes, we can reduce natural resource and water use and conserve energy,” said EPA Acting Administrator Marianne Lamont Horinko.

Hazardous waste includes residue from industrial processes, such as used solvents, metal-containing sludge and dust collected in air pollution equipment.

EPA believes that the industry categories mainly affected by the proposal will be inorganic chemicals, plastic materials and resins, pharmaceutical preparations, cyclic crudes (acids, dyes, and pigments), intermediates (specialty chemicals), industrial organic chemicals, nonferrous metals (such as lead), plating and polishing, and printed circuit boards.

The proposed changes represent potential savings of $178 million a year in waste management and recycling costs at more than 1,700 plants nationwide.

Specifically, EPA proposes to exclude from hazardous waste regulation those materials that are recycled in a continuous process within the same industry. (A continuous process is one with no momentary stoppage, and in which, unlike regular recycling, the company reclaiming or recovering the material has to be the same one that generated it.) If these materials are released to the environment, however, the existing hazardous waste regulations will apply and EPA will use all appropriate enforcement authorities to control them. In addition, the proposal does not change the Agency’s current regulations or authority over the following types of hazardous recyclable materials: (1) those recycled by a commercial or third-party reclaimer who is not within the same industry; (2) those placed on the land for beneficial use; (3) those burned for energy recovery; and (4) those considered inherently waste-like, such as certain dioxin-containing wastes.

The proposed amendment specifies four general criteria for distinguishing legitimate hazardous waste recycling from improper recycling:

•The material must be managed as a valuable commodity. (In the context of the proposal, EPA considers a commodity “valuable” if it can be reclaimed or recycled.)

•The material must provide a useful contribution to the recycling process or to a product of the recycling process.

•The recycling process must yield a valuable product or intermediate that is sold or used under specific conditions.

•The product of the recycling process must not contain significant amounts of hazardous constituents.

The proposal will appear soon in the Federal Register, with a 90-day public comment period. More information is available from the RCRA Call Center at 1-800-424-9346 or TDD 1-800-553-7672. Complete details are available at: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/dsw/abr.htm.


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