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Waste and hazardous substances


How is ‘waste’ defined in your jurisdiction?

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act defines ‘solid waste’ as “any garbage, refuse, sludge… and other discarded material”. Under the act, ‘solid’ wastes include solid, liquid, semi-solid or contained gaseous material. Solid wastes classified as ‘hazardous wastes’ include:

  • certain specifically listed wastes;
  • wastes that fail generic characteristics of toxicity, reactivity, corrosivity or flammability;
  • certain mixtures of hazardous wastes and other solid wastes, and residues from treatment of hazardous waste; and
  • media (eg, soil and debris) that contain hazardous waste.

Under state law, additional provisions may expand the generic characteristics of hazardous waste or the list of wastes identified as hazardous in that state.

Waste handling

What rules and procedures govern the handling of waste, with particular respect to:

(a) Storage?

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regulates the storage of hazardous waste. Depending on the size and type of facility, regulations under the act may impose accumulation time limits and technical standards (eg, for containers, tanks, drip pads or containment buildings), as well as training requirements, air emission limitations and the development of contingency plans and emergency procedures.

(b) Transport?

 The act requires transporters of hazardous waste to obtain an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identification number and comply with the EPA’s hazardous waste manifest system. Exemptions exist for transporters of certain recycled or reclaimed hazardous wastes generated by small-quantity generators. Transporters must also take certain actions in response to discharges or spills of hazardous waste. Transporters must also comply with applicable Department of Transportation regulations that apply to the transport of hazardous materials by rail, aircraft, water vessel or truck. These include recordkeeping, training, manifest, labelling and packaging requirements.  The act also restricts the export and import of hazardous waste.

(c) Disposal?

 The act requires that certain hazardous wastes meet treatment standards before land disposal. Certain treatment standards are numerical and others require the use of certain treatment technologies. The act also imposes recordkeeping requirements on disposers of hazardous waste.

(d) Recycling/reuse?

EPA regulations and guidance documents help companies to determine whether recycled materials are subject to requirements under the act (ie, whether the recycled materials meet the definition of ‘solid waste’). Recycling standards under the act range from full regulation to full exemption from regulation. Certain recycled materials are:

  • specifically excluded from the definition of ‘solid waste’ (eg, waste used as an ingredient);
  • considered solid wastes but not hazardous wastes; or
  • considered hazardous wastes but are subject to alternative regulatory controls.


What is the extent of a waste producer’s liability after transferral of waste (eg, to a waste disposal agent)?

Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, parties that arrange for waste disposal, treatment or transport may be subject to ongoing liability for improperly managed waste. Companies that transfer waste should carefully consider their potential liability by, for example, obtaining appropriate insurance coverage and negotiating appropriate contractual language with the waste disposal agent.

Waste recovery

Are waste producers bound by any waste recovery obligations?

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act exempts certain recyclable materials (including certain by-products) and recycling activities from its hazardous waste regulations, generally if specified conditions are met. Federal law does not mandate waste recycling in lieu of disposal. Under various state laws, extended producer responsibility requirements (including recycling targets) may apply for certain products.

Waste disposal agents

How are the business activities of waste disposal agents/landfill operators regulated?

The EPA applies different requirements to different types of landfills, including municipal solid waste landfills, industrial waste landfills and hazardous waste landfills. It imposes design standards on hazardous waste landfills, including the use of a double liner and a leak detection system. Operators are subject to inspection, monitoring and release response obligations, as well as post-closure requirements.

Hazardous substances

What special rules, regulations and safeguards apply to the handling and disposal of hazardous materials?

Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regulates generation, treatment, storage, disposal and management of hazardous wastes.

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act governs transport and handling of hazardous materials.

The EPA requires facilities that produce, handle, process, distribute or store extremely hazardous substances to develop and implement a risk management plan. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Act sets general industry standards and specific construction, maritime and agriculture industry standards to limit on-the-job injuries and occupational disease risks for workers. Under this act, employers must provide personal protective equipment and grant employees access to their medical records. Extensive regulations guard against workplace hazards, including standards for process safety management of highly hazardous chemicals and employee exposure to various air contaminants, asbestos and other substances. Licensing, training and certification requirements also apply to certain activities regulated under the act.

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