Environmental Protection Agency Issues Final Rule on Resource Conservation and Recovery Act Exclusion for Solvent-Contaminated Rags, Industrial Wipes, and Shop Towels

On Monday, July 22, 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) finalized its long-awaited final rule excluding from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (“RCRA”) regulation solvent-contaminated rags, industrial wipes, and shop towels.

Under the final rule, reusable rags and wipes are excluded from the definition of solid waste (therefore neither a solid waste nor hazardous waste), whereas disposable rags and wipes are merely excluded from the hazardous waste definition. Reusable towels must go to a laundry or dry cleaner whose discharge is regulated under the Clean Water Act. Disposable wipes may go to:

1) Combustors that are regulated under Section 129 of the Clean Air Act or under 49 Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”) parts 264, 265, or 266 subpart H,

2) Municipal solid waste landfills regulated under 40 CFR part 258 (including §258.40) or,

3) Hazardous waste landfills regulated under 40 CFR parts 264 or 265.

An EPA Summary Chart, accessible here, sets forth the conditions for RCRA exclusion:

1. Storage

Wipes must be accumulated, stored, and transported in non-leaking, closed containers that can contain free liquids, should they occur.

2. Labels

Containers must be labeled “Excluded Solvent-Contaminated Wipes.”

3. Time Limits to Accumulate

Generators may accumulate wipes up to 180 days from the start date of accumulation prior to being sent for cleaning or disposal.

4. Recordkeeping

Generators must maintain documents that include the name and address of the laundry, dry cleaner, landfill, or combustor, documentation that the 180-day accumulation time limit is being met, and a description of the process that the generator is using to meet the “no free liquids” condition.

Also, disposable wipes that are hazardous waste due to the presence of trichloroethylene are not eligible for the exclusion.

This final rule gives long sought guidance to industries that use either disposable or reusable shop rags, wipes or towels. Given the broader exclusion from the definition of Solid Waste, reusable solvent contaminated rags, towels or wipes would appear to be a more regulatory favorable option. In either case, this regulatory action provides certainty for industry regarding this issue.

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