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Solvent – Contaminated Wipes Exclusion from RCRA Hazardous Waste Regulations

The rags and wipes that are contaminated with a solvent have always been a question mark for so long when it comes to proper disposal. I’ve observed lack of knowledge in  numerous companies in different sectors U.S. wide. For some small businesses, the cost was an issue, and in some cases, the confusion regarding the proper disposal was overwhelming and frustrating.

Industrial wipes have a wide range of application, and they come in different shape, material and size. These wipes are used in so many different industries from auto and chemical manufacturers to machine shops for cleaning and other purposes.

Whenever non-hazardous waste is mixed with hazardous waste, the mixture becomes hazardous waste. These wipes, in most cases, are and must be disposed as hazardous waste following the Federal Resources Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the appropriate State hazardous waste regulations.

In July 31, 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule that created a conditional exemption for solvent-contaminated wipes. Before we move on, let’s quickly look at couple of important definitions (listed in 40 CFR 260.10):

Wipe: means a woven or non-woven shop towel, rag, pad, or swab made of wood pulp, fabric, cotton, polyester blends, or other material.

Solvent-contaminated wipe means a wipe that, after use or after cleaning up a spill, either:

  • Contains one or more of the F001 through F005 solvents
  • Exhibits a hazardous characteristic when that characteristic results from a listed solvent or
  • Exhibits only the hazardous waste characteristic of ignitability due to the presence of solvents that are not listed.

Let’s explore some more:

  • It applies to two categories of wipes: reusables, which are laundered or dry cleaned and used again; and disposables, which are disposed in a landfill or combustor.
  • As long as the solvent-contaminated wipes meet the conditions of the exclusions, they are not considered hazardous waste under RCRA.
  • A waste has to be a “Solid waste” first to be considered a “hazardous waste”. The solvent-contaminated wipes sent for cleaning (i.e. laundering or dry cleaning) and the ones sent for disposal (i.e. landfilling or incineration) are excluded from RCRA under “reusable wipes” and disposable wipes” exclusions respectively.

Yes, there is a catch: The solvent-contaminated wipes must be managed in a certain way so that companies can take advantage of these exclusions. Here are some of the requirements:

  • Containers must be labeled “Excluded Solvent-Contaminated Wipes.”
  • Wipes must be accumulated, stored, and transported in non-leaking, closed containers that can contain free liquids, should they occur.
  • Wipes can be accumulated up to 180 days.
  • Free liquids removed from the wipes must be managed adequately following applicable RCRA regulations.
  • Solvent-contaminated wipes that are hazardous due to the presence of trichloroethylene are not eligible for the disposable wipes exclusion.
  • Solvent-contaminated wipes that contain listed hazardous waste other than solvents, or exhibit the characteristic of toxicity, corrosivity, or reactivity due to contaminants other than solvents, are not eligible for the exclusions.

There are some more requirements. For more details on these requirements, please check out the summary table posted on EPA’s website:

Wipes Rule Summary Chart

So far, we’ve been talking about an exemption at a Federal level, right? Well, considering the fact that most states are authorized to implement their own hazardous waste programs, how will you know whether your state adopted this federal exemption or not?

Right before, I answer this question, I would like to underline first that for a State to be authorized to have their own hazardous waste regulations, they have to, at a minimum, meet the Federal requirements. We already know that. Now, the solvent-contaminated wipe exclusion is a less stringent requirement at a Federal level, and the States are allowed to not to adopt this rule, and maintain their most stringent hazardous waste rules regarding these wipes. Having said that, definitely check with your State first in order to adequately manage solvent-contaminated wipes and to stay compliant. EPA created a page to facilitate this. Check this out:

Which State adopted the Solvent-Contaminated Wipes Final Rule?

Frequently Asked Questions about Solvent-Contaminated Wipes Rule

News Release for the Solvent – Contaminated Wipes Rule from the EPA

If you want to know more about hazardous waste and/or universal waste regulations, take a look at GreenUp Academy’s:

To see our entire course and webinar schedule, click here!

Let us know what you think. Thanks for reading!

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be legal advice in any way. The goal was just to discuss an exemption of RCRA implemented by the US EPA. Please refer to your attorney or legal department for any legal advice.

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