What is hazardous waste?
A waste is any solid, liquid, or contained gaseous material that is discarded by being disposed of, incinerated, or recycled. It can be the byproduct of a manufacturing process or simply a commercial product that you use - such as a cleaning fluid or battery acid - that is being disposed. Even materials that are recyclable or can be reused in some way - such as burning used oil for fuel - may be considered waste.
Hazardous waste comes in many forms, but generally is either listed specifically as hazardous by the federal government, or it is considered hazardous by the characteristics it demonstrates. A waste is considered hazardous if it is:
- Ignitable -- It catches fire under certain conditions. Examples are certain paints and degreasers and solvents.
- Corrosive -- It corrodes metals or has a very high or very low pH. Examples are rust removers, acid or alkaline cleaning fluids, and battery acid.
- Reactive or Unstable -- It is unstable and explodes or produces toxic fumes, gases, and vapors when mixed with water or under other conditions, such as heat or pressure. Examples are certain cyanides and sulfide-bearing wastes.
- Toxic -- It is harmful or fatal when ingested or absorbed, or it leaches toxic chemicals into the soil or ground water when disposed of on land. Examples are wastes that contain high concentrations of heavy metals, such as cadmium, lead, or mercury.
Additionally, a mixture of hazardous waste with solid waste (e.g., motor oil with trash or debris) may be a hazardous waste.
Do hazardous waste regulations affect my business?
First determine if the business generates hazardous waste. If so, measure the amount of hazardous waste the business produces each month. This information determines the business' generator category, which in turn determines the management requirements that must be followed.
How do I determine my generator category?
Many hazardous wastes are liquids and are measured in gallons - not pounds. In order to measure liquid wastes, convert from gallons to pounds. To do this, determine the density of the liquid. A rough guide is that 30 gallons (about half of a 55-gallon drum) of waste with a density similar to water weighs about 220 lb (100 kg); 300 gallons of a waste with a density similar to water weighs about 2,200 lb (1,000 kg).
The U.S. EPA has established three generator categories, each of which is regulated differently:
- Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQGS) - Generate no more than 220 lb (100 kg) of hazardous waste in any month. CESQGS are exempt from hazardous waste management regulations provided that certain basic requirements are met.
- Small Quantity Generators (SQGS) - Generate between 220 and 2,200 lb (100 and 1,000 kg) of hazardous waste in any month. SQGs must comply with EPA and state requirements for managing hazardous waste.
- Large Quantity Generators (LQGS) - Generate more than 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) of hazardous waste in any month. LQGs must comply with more extensive hazardous waste rules.
Note: Some wastes are so dangerous that they are called acutely hazardous wastes. If a business generates or accumulates more than 2.2 lb (1 kg) of acutely hazardous waste in a calendar month, all of the acutely hazardous waste must be managed according to the regulations applicable to LQGs.