On October 7, 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a final rule updating the definition of solid waste. This ruling would change the definition so that hazardous materials sent to recycling or reclamation facilities would not be considered solid waste, and thus would be exempt from the Subtitle C hazardous waste regulations. The goal of this rule is to encourage recycling of hazardous materials and the USEPA estimates that this change would exclude 1.5 million tons of hazardous materials from the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act’s hazardous waste regulations.
It is not clear what impact this change would have on municipal solid waste management facilities such as Subtitle D landfills, transfer stations, Waste-to-Energy facilities or Material Recycling Facilities. If these excluded materials actually go to bona-fide hazardous materials recycling operations there would be no impact on municipal solid waste management facilities. If, however, this creates a loophole through which hazardous materials escape regulation, they may find their way to municipal solid waste facilities or, even worse, be open dumped.
This rule makes waste screening at municipal solid waste facilities even more important. Municipal solid waste managers need to know where their wastes are coming from and need to put in place practices to detect and screen out prohibited materials.
The materials targeted are “hazardous secondary materials” and are generated mostly through metals and solvents recycling.
Not regulating them would save the USEPA millions in regulatory costs and would ease the regulatory burden on legitimate recyclers. However, we need to be vigilant to assure that they do not have an unintended adverse effect on the municipal solid waste practices.