Hazardous Waste

In 1976 the U.S. Congress passed a law called the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Under RCRA, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has developed specific requirements for handling hazardous waste. These requirements control hazardous waste from the moment it is generated until its ultimate disposal. Since 1980, the EPA has been refining the hazardous-waste program to further protect public health and the environment. As a result, the requirements were expanded to include small businesses that handle specified quantities of hazardous waste, and the number of wastes classified as hazardous has been increased.


Defining Hazardous Waste

A waste is a solid or liquid material that is no longer used. EPA defines waste as hazardous if it has certain properties that could pose dangers to human health and the environment after it is discarded. EPA considers a waste to be hazardous if it possesses certain characteristics (ability to ignite, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity) or if it is on a list of specific wastes determined by the EPA to be hazardous. RCRA regulations, found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Title 40, Part 261, present the listed hazardous wastes, describe hazardous-waste characteristics, and specify test methods for determining whether waste is hazardous.

Complete lists of wastes identified by the EPA as hazardous can also be obtained from the EPA's RCRA/Superfund Hotline at (800) 424-9346 or from the regional EPA offices and state hazardous-waste management agencies.

  • In general, a business is likely to produce hazardous waste if it:
  • Receives delivery of products accompanied by a shipping paper or label indicating that the product is hazardous;
  • Uses materials that bubble or fume upon contact with water;
  • Uses materials that burn or itch upon contact with skin;
  • Uses flammable materials;
  • Uses materials that dissolve metals, wood, paper, or clothing (acids and caustics);
  • Uses pesticides or other related chemicals;
  • Uses dyes, paints, printing inks, thinners, solvents, or cleaning fluids;
  • Uses petroleum products.


Waste Production Threshold

The EPA considers small-quantity generators to be producers of more than 220 and less than 2,200 pounds (more than 100 and less than 1,000 kilograms) of hazardous waste in a calendar month. Small-quantity generators are subject to hazardous-waste requirements, and businesses should be aware that state agencies may have additional or more restrictive requirements. Producers of 1,000 kilograms or more than one kilogram of certain acutely hazardous wastes (waste that is fatal to humans in small doses) are subject to the more extensive regulations that apply to large-quantity generators.

A business that produces hazardous waste and is regulated under the Federal Hazardous Waste Requirements must:

  • Obtain an EPA identification number for each site at which hazardous waste is generated. To obtain an EPA identification number, contact the EPA regional office or your state hazardous-waste management agency and ask for Form 8700-12.
  • Properly handle waste on the company premises. A permit may be required if waste is stored, treated, or disposed of on site. Contact the regional EPA office, state agency, or RCRA/Superfund Hotline for information on permits, storing, and shipping of hazardous wastes.


Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act

Established as part of the Superfund Amendments passed by Congress in 1986, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know-Act (EPCRA) is intended to inform the public and community emergency-response services, such as fire departments, about the existence of certain toxic substances in area businesses. If toxic substances are being released into the air, land, or water while they are being manufactured, processed, or used in other ways, the EPCRA requires the business involved to file a "Form R" with the EPA. You can obtain a list of more than 300 toxic substances from the EPA.

Manufacturers should be aware that failure to submit a Form R is a felony, and even an unintentional violation of this law is a civil offense. The EPA estimates that compliance costs for businesses total $147 million and acknowledges that small businesses are usually most burdened by these regulations.

For more information about environmental reporting laws, contact the EPCRA Hotline at (800) 535-0202 or your regional EPA office.