On July 31, 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule that marked the end of its decades long review of the regulation of solvent-contaminated wipes by conditionally excluding them from hazardous waste regulations provided that the solvent-contaminated wipes are properly cleaned or disposed of. Subject to certain exceptions, the final rule: 1) conditionally excludes solvent-contaminated wipes that are cleaned and reused (reusable wipes) from the definition of a “solid waste” under 40 CFR 261.4(a)(26); and 2) conditionally excludes solvent-contaminated wipes that are disposed in a landfill or a combustor (disposable wipes) from the definition of a “hazardous waste” under 40 CFR 261.4(b)(18).
EPA first received rulemaking petitions from industry groups in the 1980s, proposed modified regulations for solvent-contaminated wipes in 2003 and published a revised risk assessment for public comment in 2009. The newly issued final rule is the result of extensive industry comment and, according to EPA, finalizes a regulatory framework that is appropriate for the level of risk posed by solvent-contaminated wipes. EPA has estimated that the final rule will save the industry up to $27.8 million per year.
What is a Solvent-Contaminated Wipe?
A solvent-contaminated wipe is a shop towel, rag, pad or swab of paper, fabric, cotton, polyester blends or other material, that after use or after cleaning up a spill contains a solvent that would be considered a hazardous waste either because it is a listed hazardous waste or was a characteristic hazardous waste due to ignitability. Solvent-contaminated wipes do not include wipes contaminated with hazardous waste other than solvents, or that exhibit the characteristics of a hazardous waste other than ignitability (toxicity, corrosivity or reactivity). Further, disposable wipes that are hazardous waste due to the presence of trichloroethylene are not eligible for the exclusion.
The Final Rule’s Regulation of Solvent-Contaminated Wipes
In order to be excluded from hazardous waste regulation, solvent-contaminated wipes must be managed according to certain management standards. Specifically:
- Solvent-contaminated wipes must be kept in closed containers and labeled as “Excluded Solvent-Contaminated Wipes.”
- Generators may accumulate solvent-contaminated wipes for no longer than 180 days prior to sending the wipes off-site for cleaning or disposal at a non-hazardous waste handling facility.
- Solvent-contaminated wipes must not contain free liquids when being sent for cleaning or disposal. Free liquid solvent removed from the wipes must be managed as a hazardous waste, as appropriate.
- Solvent-contaminated wipes may only go to laundries, dry cleaners, solid waste combustors or municipal solid waste landfills that are regulated under their respective Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Resources Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations.
- Generators must maintain on-site documentation regarding management of excluded solvent-contaminated wipes.
Solvent-contaminated wipes managed according to the conditions in the final rule are not considered hazardous wastes and, thus, do not need to meet the more stringent hazardous waste regulations. Before adoption of this rule, solvent-contaminated wipes had to be manifested as a hazardous waste and sent off-site.
The final rule becomes effective on January 31, 2014 but will not be immediately effective in states that have final RCRA authorization to administer RCRA programs at the state level. Authorized states may, but are not required to, adopt this federal regulation because it is considered less stringent than the base RCRA hazardous waste program. The final rule “encourages states to adopt this rule as soon as possible to reduce regulatory burden on businesses and maximize national consistency, while maintaining protection of human health and the environment” but that decision rests with authorized states.
Wisconsin has final RCRA authorization so this final rule will not be immediately effective in Wisconsin. We understand that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) intends to modify its existing guidance to more closely follow EPA’s final rule. To modify its existing guidance, WDNR will follow the agency’s public notice and review process and is targeting January 2014 to have the revised guidance available. It will likely be several years before the administrative rules regarding solvent-contaminated wipes will be modified. In the meantime, WDNR’s guidance remains in effect.
EPA has drafted a summary chart that outlines the final rule and, where appropriate, the differences between solvent-contaminated reusable wipes and solvent-contaminated disposable wipes.