It’s quite likely that at one time or another you have had to deal with the off-site shipment of empty packagings.  Most manufacturing facilities experience this when they empty various non-bulk (usually 55-gallons or smaller) packagings of their contents and then either return them to the supplier or send to them to a facility for reconditioning, remanufacture, or reuse.   If these packagings contained a hazardous material as defined by US DOT, then the shipment is subject to the requirements of the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR).  However, the HMR includes exclusions from full regulation if the provisions of 49 CFR 173.29 are met.  Whatever your situation, a good understanding of the provisions and exclusions for shipment of empty packagings will help ensure you maintain compliance with US DOT regulations.

You must first understand that an empty packaging containing only the residue of its original hazardous material contents is subject to the same requirements of the HMR as it was when it contained a greater quantity (ie. when it was full).  This includes use of the four hazard communication methods:  shipping papers, placards, labels, and markings; and the training required in 49 CFR 172, Subpart H for the HazMat Employees who prepare the empty packagings for shipment.  The two most useful exclusions in 49 CFR 173.29 can be found in sections b & c and are explained below.  While section b excludes the shipment from all of the HMR, it also contains the most restrictive provisions to gain that exclusion.  Section c excludes the shipper from only some of the HMR, but is much easier to comply with.

A close reading of 49 CFR 173.29(b) reveals that your empty packaging shipment (bulk and non-bulk) is not subject to any requirement of the HMR if you are able to meet all of the following provisions, as applicable:

First, any hazard communication method that identifies the empty packaging as containing a hazarous material (ie. marking, labels, placards, etc.) are removed, obliterated, or securely covered in transportation.  Note that the requirement to remove all hazard communication is not necessary if the packagings are shipped in a transport vehicle or freight container, are not visible in transportation, and are loaded by you – the shipper – and unloaded by you or the consignee – the destination facility.

Second, the empty packaging is either unused, sufficiently cleaned of residue and purged of vapors to remove any potential hazard, or is refilled with a non-hazardous material such that any residue now won’t pose a threat.  Note that “cleaned of residue and purged…” and “now won’t pose a threat” is intentionally not defined by regulation.  It is your responsibility as the shipper to ensure these provisions are met.

Third, if the empty packaging contains only the residue of an ORM-D Consumer Commodity,  a Division 2.2 non-flammable gas described in 49 CFR 173.29(b)(2)(iv)(B), or the residue does not meet the definition of a hazardous substance, a hazardous waste, or a marine pollutant.  An example of where this last provision might apply is if a shipment is regulated as a hazardous material solely due to it being above the RQ in a single packaging and thus a hazardous substance.  If the amount of material in an empty container is below the RQ, then the material is no longer a hazardous substance and no longer subject to the HMR.  A US DOT interpretation letter on this subject may be seen here.

So in conclusion, 49 CFR 173.29(b) allows you to ship packagings – both bulk and non-bulk – without any of the requirements of the HMR as long as all the hazards are removed – or not judged to be much of a hazard in the first place, such as ORM-D – and any information identifying the packaging as hazardous are removed or not visible in transportation.

49 CFR 173.29(c), while not as extensive in the exclusions from the HMR as is section b, also does not contain as many hoops to jump through.  It is most likely the applicable regulation if you ship empty non-bulk packagings to a drum re-conditioner or back to the material supplier.  There are three provisions you must be aware of.

First, it must be a non-bulk packaging as defined at 49 CFR 171.8 which is a HazMat packaging that is:

  • ≤119 gallon capacity for a liquid.
  • ≤119 gallon and ≤882 pound capacity for a solid.
  • ≤1,000 gallon water capacity for a gas.

Second, the residue in the empty packaging may only be a hazardous material covered by Table 2 of 49 CFR 172.504 (see below) and is not a Poison Inhalation Hazard.

Table 2

Hazard Class or Division Placard Name
Combustible Liquid COMBUSTIBLE
5.2 (Other than organic peroxide, Type B, liquid or solid, temperature controlled) ORGANIC PEROXIDE
6.1 (Other than material poisonous by inhalation) POISON
6.2 (Infectious Substance) NONE
9 CLASS 9 (placard not required for domestic transportation)

If the two above provisions are met for your shipment, then it is not subject to the placarding requirements of 49 CFR 172, Subpart F.

Further, if your shipment of non-bulk packages from Table 2 is transported by a contract or private carrier – not acommon carrier – and is destined for reconditioning, remanufacture, or reuse, then you are not required to use a shipping paper as is required for most HazMat shipments per 49 CFR 172, Subpart C.  An interpretation letter from the US DOT regarding a situation such as this can be found here.

If required, 49 CFR 173.29(e) refers you to the regulations pertaining to shipping papers found at 49 CFR 172.203(e).  For most shipments – bulk and non-bulk – the description on the shipping paper may include, “RESIDUE: Last Contained…” near the basic description of the hazardous material.  For shipments in a tank caronly, which is included in the definition at 49 CFR 171.8 of a railroad car, the description on the shipping paper mustinclude, “RESIDUE: LAST CONTAINED…” before the basic description.

Note that 49 CFR 173.29(c) does not exclude the requirement to train your HazMat Employees per 49 CFR 172, Subpart H.  Therefore any employee that prepares the empty packagings for shipment, completes or signs the shipping papers, or loads/unloads the empty packagings onto the vehicle must receive DOT Hazardous Materials Training.

You must also ensure compliance with the US EPA regulations for emptying the container (US EPA refers to it as a container, not a packaging) in order to ensure the residue is no longer a hazardous waste.  The applicable US EPA regulations can be found at 40 CFR 261.7.  If you generate any hazardous waste, you may be subject to the training requirements of 40 CFR 265.16 for any employees who handle hazardous waste or sign a hazardous waste manifest.

If you are a shipper of empty packagings, then it is quite likely that you and perhaps several of your employees require triennial HazMat Employee training as required by the US DOT and annual RCRA Employee training per US EPA.  Attendance at any one of my training events meets both of these regulatory requirements in one day.  Check out my schedule to find a date and location convenient to you, or contact me to discuss on-site training for all of your employees for one low fee of $1,749.

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