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What is a Product and What is a Waste?

What is a Product and What is a Waste?

When you look around your facility it’s important for you to know when you are looking at a product – and therefore not subject to RCRA – and when you are looking at a waste – and therefore subject to RCRA.  Unfortunately, not everything comes with a label reading, “Waste for Disposal” or “Product to be Used”.  But as the generator of any solid waste you are responsible to make this determination and be able to defend it to a State or Federal inspector.  Let’s say for example that during an on-site inspection an inspector for the USEPA’s hazardous waste enforcement division looks in one of your storage areas and proclaims, “those old drums of solvent over there look like waste to me.”  “They’re not,” you retort and then quickly add, “As a matter of fact we hope to put those solvents into use sometime soon.”  Right there you’ve got a problem on your hands and the challenge before you is to convince the inspector that the drums of solvent you are both looking at are not a waste but rather are a valuable product.  How are you going to do that?  Below are some questions you should ask yourself about the “products” you see throughout your facility.  The answers to these questions will help you to determine if what you see is a product or a waste.  Source:  Missouri Department of Natural Resources guidance.

  1. Can you use the product in the processes currently in operation?  If you’ve changed the formulation or equipment in a way that the product is no longer needed, then it likely is a waste.
    Discarded Material as a Solid Waste

    Do you intend to discard that product? If not, why are you treating it that way?

  2. Can you identify another company that can use a product you no longer need?  If they are able to use the product for its intended use (even if its land disposal or fuel blending) then it is not a waste.
  3. Are you storing the product in a way that demonstrates it has a value to you?  Drums stored in a decrepit building or a weed-infested lot, exposed to the elements will not appear to have any value to you.  Product should be stored in a manner consistent with industry standards.  If not, then it will likely be viewed as a waste.
  4. Can you identify the product?  Are labels and markings present?  Legible?  If you don’t even know what it is, then it will be a challenge to convince an inspector that it has any value to you and should be viewed as product.  Unknowns have additional handling and disposal issues.  Make certain all of your product containers are labeled and stored in a manner to preserve them in a legible condition.
  5. Is the product stored in conditions as indicated on the Material Safety Data Sheet (or, if you’re reading this after June 1, 2015:  The Safety Data Sheet)?  Exposure to the elements, temperature extremes, even direct sunlight can degrade products faster and make them unusable.
  6. Is the product stored past its expiration date?  This can be challenging since it is not uncommon for a manufacturer or supplier to determine this date somewhat arbitrarily (Believe me.  I’ve worked with suppliers of products and sometimes their hamstrung by their own expiration dates).  If your product is on-site past its official expiration date, you will be in a difficult position arguing that it is not a waste.
  7. Is the product container in good condition?  A product that you consider to have value – and therefore is not a waste – would not be stored in a leaking, rusty, dinged ‘n dented container.  If you have such a situation (good product in a bad container) consider transferring the product to a better receptacle.  It will be more justifiable as a product and will help prevent leaks that will definitely result in the generation of a waste.
  8. How is it labeled?  Perhaps the only more convicting characteristic of a waste than it be unlabeled (as in #4 of this list) is it being labeled as “Bad”, “Spent”, “Used”, “Do not Use”, or something similar.  Terms such as these may be seen as guidance only by you and your employees, but may carry a lot more weight with an EPA inspector.  If it’s product you intend to use, be sure its labeling reflects it.

Remember that the difference between a product and a waste may depend on whether or not it has been discarded or if it appears that there has been a decision to discard it.  Further, abandoning a product (ie. storing it in lieu of disposing of it properly) is considered a form of discard and is therefore a waste.

Don’t get caught off-guard with your product turning into waste during an agency inspection.  Take these simple precautions:

  • Keep an up-to-date inventory of your products.
  • Visually check your product containers to ensure they are labeled, and to identify any signs of deterioration.
  • Sure, you want to save that 5-gallon bucket of solvent, just in case you might need it again.  But is it really worth it?
  • Training.  Training?  Sure, training.  I’ve done training for plenty of companies that don’t routinely generate much waste, but have the potential to generate vast quantities if their inventories aren’t managed properly.  Train your employees on the correct handling procedures and let them know what the consequences are of mishandling.

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