Running a manufacturing facility, oil and gas refinery, pharmaceutical company or food-processing plant — among other operations — generates a tremendous amount of waste, particularly chemical waste. Much of that waste is hazardous. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that between 2001 and 2015, the United States produced approximately 20 to 29 million tons of hazardous waste per year. All that waste has to go somewhere, and companies must follow federal regulations to dispose of it.
So, how do companies dispose of chemical waste, and how can they minimize their liability under the law with proper waste disposal? We’ll explain in the guide below.
What Is Chemical Waste?
Chemical waste is the waste created by the use of chemicals that could harm human health or the environment when released into the air, water or soil. Residuals in chemical containers, unlabeled or abandoned chemicals, chemicals in damaged containers, and debris like paper towels and gloves that are contaminated with hazardous materials are all examples of hazardous waste.
Many types of chemical waste are classified as hazardous wastes, so proper chemical waste disposal is essential for minimizing environmental harm and human health risks.
Why Does Waste Create Liability?
Chemical waste can lead to liability under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Congress enacted RCRA in 1976 to help protect the environment from improper handling and disposal of hazardous waste.
Under RCRA, companies that generate hazardous waste products are responsible for those wastes from the cradle to grave — that is, from the creation of the waste through its elimination. The EPA has the authority to monitor and regulate this waste at every step, including generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal.
Therefore, generating, transporting, treating, storing or disposing of hazardous waste improperly could create liability for a business under federal law. But businesses can take steps to minimize this liability by developing protocols for safe, correct waste handling and disposal.
Steps for Minimizing Waste Liability
Minimizing waste liability means complying with the many federal requirements for hazardous waste producers. Here are some of the steps toward attaining compliance:
1. Reduce Hazardous Chemical Use
If it’s possible, try switching to nonhazardous materials for some processes. If you use a hazardous chemical for which you can substitute a less hazardous or nonhazardous chemical, do your best to implement the change. If it is possible to recycle some substances instead of disposing of them, look into implementing a recycling program as well. Hazardous waste recycling is common — especially recovery of spent solvents and heavy metals like lead — and can cut down on both waste and disposal liability.
For companies that generate modest amounts of hazardous waste, a waste reduction plan is a good idea but not required. For companies that generate large quantities of hazardous waste, a waste reduction plan is required under federal law.
2. Store Waste Safely
Proper waste storage includes steps such as labeling the waste appropriately, storing the waste only in designated areas and preventing leaks or seepage. Companies should meet the technical standards and management requirements for all containers, drip pads, tanks and containment buildings.
Proper waste management also includes storing the waste for the permitted amount of time. The EPA requires companies that generate large quantities of hazardous waste — typically 1,000 kilograms per month or more, though companies that generate excessive acute hazardous waste also fall into this category — to dispose of that waste within 90 days of its creation. Small-quantity generators have 180 days to dispose of their waste or 270 days if they plan to transport it more than 200 miles. Generators of very small amounts of hazardous waste are not subject to time restrictions.
3. Provide Adequate Training
Providing thorough, effective training for employees helps reduce the risk of accidents and liability while you store hazardous waste. You can use classroom training or on-the-job training — whichever will give personnel the tools they need for safe hazardous waste management. You should also train employees on your contingency plan and emergency procedures, so everyone knows what to do if an accident occurs. These plans and training are required under federal law.
4. Follow Proper Shipping Protocols
Shipping hazardous waste properly includes listing the waste correctly on the shipping manifest and sending it via a licensed transporter to an authorized disposal facility. Be sure to use the multiple-copy manifest required by both the EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
Because of the high potential for leaks and spillage during handoff, it’s often best to streamline the process by choosing a single company that can transport the waste to its own disposal facilities, rather than using separate companies for shipping and disposal.
5. Partner With a Reliable Waste Disposal Company
Partnering with a reliable waste disposal company helps give you the peace of mind of knowing you’re complying with regulations and doing your part to protect the environment.
Working with a dependable waste disposal company for industrial waste management services is critical. Under RCRA, businesses are still responsible for their waste even after the waste disposal company has taken possession of it. So, if a mishap occurs in transit or the company disposes of the waste illegally, your business would still be liable. With a reliable company, you can be sure that your waste will reach its destination safely and that disposal will follow proper legal practices.
How can you be sure a waste disposal company is reliable? Ask to see proof that the company is fully audited and approved. You can also seek recommendations from reputable sources in your industry to make sure the company has training and experience in handling your specific streams of industrial waste.
Other Benefits of Partnering With a Reliable Waste Disposal Company
Aside from minimizing liability, partnering with a reliable waste disposal company for chemical waste management offers several other benefits, including:
- Peace of mind: When you contract with a dependable waste disposal company, you’ll know your waste is in good hands.
- Environmental responsibility: Working with a reliable disposal company also gives you the peace of mind of knowing you’re protecting the environment from harmful contaminants.
- Reduced downtime: When you have to arrange for waste disposal yourself, negotiations and red tape may drag the process out for weeks. But a professional waste disposal company can help you dispose of waste quickly and effectively.
- Increased productivity: If your employees have to spend time getting permits and managing waste disposal, that’s time they can’t spend attending to their core responsibilities. Contracting your waste disposal frees your staff to focus on critical projects.
Contact VLS for All Your Industrial Waste Disposal Needs
To start seeing the benefits that come from working with a professional waste disposal company, make VLS your trusted solutions provider. We are growth-oriented industry leaders who offer services in a variety of fields, including waste management, marine services, and railcar cleaning. We can help our customers reduce their waste and maintain EPA compliance, and we’re happy to consult on companies’ sustainability goals.
Contact us today to learn more.