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Hazardous Waste Generator Status: How to Manage Your Compliance Load

Toby Graham /

There are three types of hazardous waste generators at the federal level:  Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQGs), Small Quantity Generators (SQGs), and Large Quantity Generators (LQGs).  The quantity of hazardous waste generated dictates recordkeeping requirements, employee training, contingency plans, and more.  Since VSQGs have the least compliance requirements, it is in a facility’s best interest to achieve this status, if possible.

 But, before we talk quantities, let’s briefly discuss how to determine whether something is a hazardous waste.

The 2-step hazardous waste inquiry

One of the most important things to remember is that a hazardous waste determination must be made for every waste.  This is the sole responsibility of the generator of the waste. The generator has what is referred to as “cradle to grave” responsibility for the waste.  We can start this process by breaking down the inquiry into two parts:  

1) Is this a waste?  

2) Is it hazardous?

The answers to both questions might not be crystal clear.  That’s why we first look at the characteristics of the waste itself to determine whether it’s hazardous.  Under U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, that means determining whether the waste is ignitable (flammable), corrosive, reactive, or toxic.  Typically, you can consult product Safety Data Sheets (SDS) to find this information.  In conjunction with process knowledge and waste testing, SDS defines the concept of “generator knowledge.”  Safety Data Sheets contain flash point (ignitability), pH (corrosivity), information on if the product will react harmfully with another substance, and an ingredients list.  Suppose the ingredients are not overtly toxic, and you have a concern that the process could introduce a contaminant to the waste stream. In that case, the waste can be sampled and tested for toxic components using a Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) test.  TCLP tests can be expensive, but the benefit is you’ll be able to confirm if 40 specific toxics are present.

If none of these characteristics are present, there’s one more step.  Let’s say the waste is part of a process to wash parts or recycle solvents.  In that case, you have process-related waste.

As a best practice, familiarize yourself with the EPA’s four lists of hazardous wastes — the F, K, U, and P lists.  Here’s a quick look at what’s generally contained on each of these lists:

F List—solid wastes from certain industrial or manufacturing processes, and, since the processes that produce the wastes may occur in different industry sectors. These wastes are designated as being from nonspecific sources

K List—solid wastes from specific industries

U List—toxic wastes including certain commercial chemical products when they are discarded or intended to be discarded, and commercial chemical products with generic names listed, off-specification species, container residues, and spill residues

 P List—acute hazardous wastes; also includes products when they are discarded or intended to be discarded and, like wastes on the U List, includes commercial chemical products with generic names listed, off-specification species, container residues, and spill residues

What you need to watch out for is that, even if you have a can of a commercial chemical product that you’ve never used at your facility but want to get rid of, you need to double check to make sure it’s not on the U or P lists.

Now, let’s talk quantities and the impact on compliance requirements

 Once you’ve confirmed you have a hazardous waste, you’ll need to meet specific compliance requirements under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which establishes the framework for the proper management of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste.  Where hazardous waste is concerned, the EPA focuses on the quantity generated in a calendar month.

If you generate less than  220 pounds of hazardous waste (about half a 55-gallon drum) in a month, the facility is considered a VSQG.

Generally, VSQGs have it relatively easy in terms of compliance requirements.  For instance, they don’t have to conduct employee training, draft modified contingency plans, or notify the local authorities of their processes.

What a VSQG must do is:

  • Retain hazardous waste shipping records for 3 years
  • Ensure hazardous wastes are properly disposed
  • Accumulate no more than 1100 pounds of hazardous waste onsite at any time

Also, depending on which state a facility is located in, the VSQG may need to obtain an EPA identification number (by completing an 8700-12 EPA RCRA Subtitle C Site Identification Form). But, even if a state requires this, given the other minimal compliance requirements noted above, attaining VSQG status is what facilities should strive for whenever possible.

Now, let’s talk about the SQG status—and, once we go over these compliance requirements, you’ll see why it’s advantageous to work toward general status reduction to become a VSQG!

SQG is the middle-of-the-road hazardous waste generator category.  This means you generate more than 220 but less than 2,200 pounds of hazardous waste per month.

Because SQGs generate a fair amount of hazardous waste, they’re subject to stricter requirements than VSQGs.  For instance, they must use a uniform hazardous waste manifest to ship their waste, rather than a simpler bill of lading allowed for VSQGs.

If an SQG doesn’t get the final copy of the manifest back after 60 days, it must file an exception report with the state, but that means more paperwork to document that a facility doesn’t know where their waste is.  

Like VSQGs, records must be kept on file for 3 years.  But, unlike VSQGs, SQGs must conduct employee training on handling hazardous wastes and have a modified contingency plan detailing emergency equipment and contact information.

SQGs also need to notify the local authorities in writing—think local police and fire departments—that the facility is a hazardous waste generator.

So, to sum things up, a SQG must:

  • Have an EPA identification number
  • Utilize Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifests
  • File any exception reports if a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest isn’t received within 60 days
  • Keep records on file for 3 years
  • Conduct employee training on hazardous wastes
  • Post Modified Contingency Plans
  • Notify local authorities about the hazardous waste(s)
  • Conduct weekly waste container inspections

Finally, very large facilities, such as power plants, are classified as Large Quantity Generators (LQGs).  These facilities generate more than 2,200 pounds of hazardous waste per month and are subject to biennial report filings, as well as even more stringent training requirements.  Like SQGs, LQGs must acquire an EPA identification number.  There may be additional requirements, too, so if you have specific questions about LQG statu,s we’re here to help you sift through those compliance obligations.  But for now, let’s strategize on how SQGs can work toward achieving VSQG status.

Tips to help you reach your VSQG goals

With advance planning and implementation, it’s quite achievable for many SQGs to reach VSQG status.  Here are some practical tips to help with generator status reduction.

Many waste streams can be recycled, such as parts washer waste.  Many different waste haulers have continued use programs for these types of waste.  For example, they might reuse your “waste” to clean out their drums.  Because the spent solvent is taken for recycling/reuse, it is not considered a waste and is therefore not a hazardous waste.

Let’s use a body shop as our next example for waste minimization:

  • Are we using paint cups and exact measuring processes to minimize excess waste?
  • Can we use a solvent recycler to minimize quantities of solvent waste?
  • Can we switch to waterborne paint, instead of hazardous solvent-based paint?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is  “yes,” there’s a good chance VSQG status is within striking distance.  

To discuss other ways facilities can manage hazardous waste output, achieve VSQG status, and lessen the hazardous waste compliance load, contact KPA. We have a host of Hazardous Waste professionals that can help you develop effective hazardous waste strategies.

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