Every new year comes with a fresh set of challenges for manufacturing facilities. This is particularly true of hazardous waste due to changing regulations. The beginning of the year is the perfect time to schedule a clean-out to ensure that your facility is meeting EPA, DOT, and DEA requirements — and avoid steep fines.
In the United States, the EPA can fine as much as $72,718 a day per violation, especially for repeat offenders. For example, if a manufacturer has a container storing hazardous waste without the lid properly secured, the EPA has the authority to determine how long the violation has occurred and can then fine the shop for every day of the non-compliance. Fines also vary by state.
A quick online search for “hazardous waste fines” produces a long list of businesses big and small across industries that have been penalized for mishandling hazardous waste disposal. One large manufacturing company was recently fined hundreds of millions of dollars for noncompliance due to decades-long groundwater contamination.
Approximately 7.6 billion tons of industrial solid waste gets generated and disposed of each year in the US. There’s no shortage of regulated items accumulated throughout the year that need to be managed and disposed of in a safe and compliant way.
Don’t leave compliance to chance. Follow these best practices to help your manufacturing facility prepare for an annual clean-out:
Identify hazardous waste
First you’ll need to understand what hazardous waste means. The EPA defines it as “waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment.” Once an item containing hazardous properties is no longer usable, it is deemed hazardous waste.
To be considered hazardous waste, the item must exhibit ignitable, corrosive, reactive and/or toxic characteristics. The item may also be on the EPA’s U, P, F, or K lists of hazardous wastes. Although you might think you only have chemical waste, there are several different types of hazardous waste you need to recognize when sorting and managing materials.
Stay updated on regulations
The next step is to educate yourself and the appropriate employees about current and future regulations that could affect your facility. Here some of the most common ones:
- RCRA: The EPA regulates hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which mandates that generators of hazardous waste are responsible for waste from the time of generation to the final destruction, and sees that these wastes are managed in ways that protect human health and the environment.
- E-Manifest: The Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act was enacted in 2012 with the goal of creating a national system for tracking hazardous waste shipments electronically, creating a centralized database that could be accessed in real-time by the regulated community. In October 2019, e-manifest user fees increased significantly.
- Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule: Signed in October 2016, this final rule aims to provide more clarity and flexibility to businesses. The rule includes more than 60 changes to the Hazardous Waste Generator program first introduced in 1980 under the RCRA. Adoption of the rule varies by state.
Avoid common mistakes
Avoid common missteps that could result in fines. They include:
- Lack of or improper labeling.
- Open containers of hazardous waste onsite.
- Dumping hazardous waste down the drain.
- Not having or having inadequate hazardous waste manifests.
- Failing to properly train employees in hazardous waste management, handling, and emergency preparedness.
- Failing to comply with hazardous waste generator regulations.
- Not having hazardous waste determinations on file.
Understand the severity of non-compliance
Facility operators who don’t understand regulations face environmental, health, and safety risks as well as chemical destruction. In addition, facilities may incur significant monetary penalties. While the financial burden of non-compliance is substantial, the negative effect that these public fines have on brand perception could be even more damaging.
Practice being compliant year-round
If your facility decides to schedule a hazardous waste clean-out just once a year, make sure you’re staying compliant year-round. Just like you wouldn’t want to race to meet a project deadline within a few days, take the necessary steps all year long. Segregate incompatible chemicals, label containers, ensure proper storage, and keep proper records.
Consider using a third-party vendor
With regulations varying from state to state and on the federal level, it can be extremely helpful to have a highly trained expert — like Stericycle Environmental Solutions — come onsite to identify best practices for managing the waste generated. You don’t want to wait until a city, state, or government inspector shows up at the door. Trained experts can help evaluate your hazardous waste streams and ensure proper compliance.
Ultimately manufacturers should strive to minimize or completely remove the generation of hazardous waste by eliminating as many waste streams as possible during the year.
By following regulations and partnering with an experienced waste solutions provider, manufacturing facilities can ensure the safety of customers, employees, their brands, and the environment.
Wade Scheel is the director of governmental affairs for Stericycle.