What is Considered Hazardous Waste?
As you know, hazardous waste is very dangerous. Therefore, it's heavily regulated. But before any regulations can be created to keep humans and the environment safe, someone needs to identify what counts as hazardous material. And that someone is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA is in charge of categorizing and assigning rules for how to handle hazardous wastes per the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976. No matter if the potential harm could be immediate (think burns or illness), or have prolonged effects (like birth defects), the EPA classifies all hazardous wastes using the same system. When the EPA is determining whether or not they should classify waste as hazardous, they use the following set of questions known as the Hazardous Waste Identification Process.
Question 1: Is the Material a Solid Waste?This question can be confusing because the EPA isn't actually determining if a waste is physically solid. In fact, hazardous wastes can be liquid, semi-solid, gaseous, or solid. Also, according to the EPA, a material is considered solid waste if it's abandoned, inherently waste-like, discarded military munitions, or recycled in specific ways.
Question 2: Is the Material Excluded From the Definition of a Solid or Hazardous Waste?Although the material might typically be included in the solid or hazardous waste categories, there are certain exclusions to the categorizations. Specific materials can be excluded for a variety of reasons, including public policy, economic impact, regulation by other laws, and impracticality of regulations. While there are dozens of hazardous waste exclusions, some of the broader categories include:
- Irrigation return flow
- Radioactive waste
- Agricultural waste
- Fossil fuel combustion waste
- Oil waste
Question 3: Is the Waste a Listed or Characteristic Waste?An easy way to determine if a material should be considered hazardous waste is if it's already been identified as a listed or characteristic waste. As the name implies, a listed waste is one that is specifically listed in section 261 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Examples include:
- Solvent wastes
- Dioxin bearing wastes
- By-products of wood preservation, petroleum refinery, and pesticide manufacturing