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Waste and hazardous substances

Definition

How is ‘waste’ defined in your jurisdiction?

Pursuant to the General Law for Waste Prevention and Integral Management, ‘waste’ is defined as any material which a proprietor or holder discards, which may require:

  • recovery;
  • treatment; or
  • disposal according to the aforementioned law and its regulations.

Waste materials can be in the following forms:

  • solid or semi-solid;
  • gas; and
  • liquid.

Depending on its characteristics, waste may be classified as:

  • hazardous;
  • special handling (eg, steel, plastic and cardboard); and
  • solid urban.

Hazardous waste is subject to federal control, while special handling and urban solid waste is regulated by local governments.

Waste handling

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

(a) Storage?

Facilities generating hazardous waste are allowed to keep it for up to six months. During this period the waste must be properly disposed of. If the waste generator wishes to use a separate company to store its waste, authorisation from the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) is required.

Regulations and Mexican Official Standards contain provisions which specify the conditions for storing hazardous waste, which are designed for safety and for the prevention of pollution.

Local legislation may require that authorisation is needed for the management, including the storage, of non-hazardous waste.

(b) Transport?

The transportation of hazardous waste requires authorisation from both SEMARNAT and the Ministry of Communication and Transport. The transportation of hazardous waste by air is forbidden.

Local legislation stipulates that authorisation to transport non-hazardous waste is required.

(c) Disposal?

The law defines ‘final disposal’ as the permanent deposit or confinement of waste, which means that it is not released into the environment. Final disposal must occur when:

  • the recovery or treatment of the waste is economically unviable;
  • the necessary technology to treat the waste is not available; or
  • the environment is inadequate for the treatment of the waste.

The establishment of sites devoted to the final disposal of hazardous waste requires the authorisation of SEMARNAT.

Local legislation requires authorisation to build and operate landfills for non-hazardous waste. However, such sites must also comply with the requirements established by the Mexican Official Standards.

(d) Recycling/reuse?

Hazardous waste recycling can take place on the site where the waste is generated or at dedicated waste recycling centres. When hazardous waste recycling is to take place on the site at which it was generated, a technical report must be submitted to SEMARNAT before recycling can be carried out. If the recycling process is likely to produce dangerous pollutants, an authorisation issued by SEMARNAT is also required. Hazardous waste recycling service companies also require authorisation from SEMARNAT.

The import of hazardous waste is permitted only if it is to be recycled. If this is the case, the requirements of the Basel Convention must be followed.

Some local legislation also has provisions which regulate the recycling of non-hazardous waste.

Liability

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

As a general rule, after waste is transferred to a third party which supplies a disposal service, the generator is no longer liable for it. However, the waste generator must verify that the third-party services have been authorised by SEMARNAT, otherwise the generator would still be held accountable if the waste were to cause any damage.

Waste recovery

Are waste producers bound by any waste recovery obligations?

Large generators of hazardous waste must develop and apply a management plan for dealing with their waste. This plan must have waste recovery as one of its objectives and contain specific activities for its accomplishment. In addition, hazardous waste which can be recovered or recycled must not be mixed with waste that cannot be recovered or recycled.

Specific obligations regarding recovery if the waste requires special handling or for solid urban waste may be established by local governments. Large generators of waste may also be obliged to develop and apply a management plan accounting for waste recovery, which is regulated locally.

Waste disposal agents

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

The business activities of waste disposal agents with regards to hazardous waste are regulated in the General Law for Prevention and Integral Management of Wastes and its regulations. In order to offer hazardous waste disposal services, disposal agents must be authorised by SEMARNAT. For disposal agents that deal with waste which requires special handling and solid urban waste, the corresponding local authority must issue special authorisation.

Landfill operators must ensure that their facilities comply with the official standard specifications and guidelines (under NOM-083-SEMARNAT-2003).

Hazardous substances

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

The following special regulations and safeguards apply for the storage of hazardous waste:

  • waste must be kept separate from production and service offices and commodities and final product storage areas;
  • waste must be located in areas where emission, leak, fire, explosion and flood risks are minimal;
  • waste must be contained in special facilities, in order to contain liquid waste and leachate;
  • waste facilities must contain passageways which allow for the movement of equipment, security groups and firemen;
  • waste storage facilities must include relevant safety equipment, including fire extinction systems, according to the type and quantity of the waste;
  • signs which indicate the hazard level of the stored waste must be clearly visible at the facility;
  • waste containers holding hazardous waste must have clearly identifiable notices which describe the content’s chemical characteristics; and
  • waste containers must be suitably designed to prevent leaks, spillages, emissions, explosions and fires.

For the transportation of hazardous waste, the operator must ensure that:

  • the waste is clearly identified;
  • a contingency plan is in place;
  • qualified personnel are employed during the transportation;
  • documentation is provided which states the amount of waste to be transported; and
  • the incompatibility characteristics of the waste are accounted for.

Hazardous waste disposal sites must be equipped with essential facilities, including:

  • cells with mineral isolating underlay;
  • additional layers of isolating synthetic materials;
  • leachate drainage; and
  • leachate and gas treatment systems.

Detailed safety and design specifications are provided in the Mexican Official Standards, depending on whether the hazardous waste in question has previously been treated

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