In order to minimize the threats caused by hazardous waste materials, Congress has enacted a law to make sure hazardous waste is managed and disposed of in a safe and responsible fashion. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enacted in 1976, addresses the issue by outlining specific rules for dealing with hazardous wastes. Specifically, the rules define what hazardous wastes are subject to regulation, in addition to identifying who is responsible and how they are responsible for dealing with the waste.
Identify Hazardous Waste in Your Small Business
Hazardous wastes create many dangers and, if disposed of improperly, can cause fires and explosions, corrode metals, or expose people to toxic chemicals, causing injuries, sickness, or death. Because of these serious risks it is imperative that even small businesses properly identify and dispose of hazardous waste.
“Hazardous waste” is defined by four major characteristics: material that is ignitable, corrosive, reactive, and/or toxic. Any waste that can be defined by one or more of these characteristics should be considered hazardous. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has specifically listed several hundred other wastes as “hazardous”; the list is available on the EPA Web site, and it should be reviewed for any applicable items by every small business owner.
If You Are Handling Hazardous Waste, Contact the Necessary Officials
If you have identified hazardous waste at your business site, it is important to notify the local hazardous waste office. They will then review your business and determine if it will need to be classified and monitored as one with hazardous waste. If so, you will receive an EPA RCRA identification number and have scheduled monitoring through either a state or local office. The office dealing with your inspections should be a good source of information regarding what local options you have for disposal and what other businesses similar to yours do to handle hazardous wastes.
Be Aware of Quantities
Regulations applicable to your business vary depending upon the amount of hazardous waste being generated. In some cases, small businesses are not subject to full RCRA requirements because they generate a smaller amount of waste; other small businesses are exempt from almost all RCRA requirements because their amount of waste is so minimal. The final call on exemptions is made by the EPA offices, but it is a subject that small business owners should be aware of and discuss with their inspectors, especially if there is only a small amount of hazardous waste in question.
Additional Resources Available Online
In addition to information the local EPA offices can provide, there are other individual businesses and Web sites that offer resources and ideas for dealing with hazardous waste. A state-by-state resource locator is available online with links to Web sites that provide detailed state-specific hazardous waste disposal regulations, requirements, resources, contact information, and practical how-to lists for handling all aspects of waste management.