Materials are not solid wastes until the decision is made to discard them. Materials that are not solid wastes cannot be RCRA regulated hazardous wastes. In the case of solvents, they are used until considered spent at which point they will be discarded. The U.S. EPA has a long established concept that materials are not solid wastes when they qualify for the Agency’s continued use policy, or in similar fashion, the secondary materials exemption regarding source substitution. Materials that have been previously used may continue to serve their purpose when used as effective substitutes for products or chemical intermediates in a manufacturing process. In order to qualify for the continued use policy, or the secondary materials exemption, the materials must not be reclaimed, processed, or reprocessed in between uses. This is critical to legitimately claiming the materials qualify for either continued use or as source substitution for a product.
It is a common industrial practice for companies to use their solvents, degreasers, etchants, and other similar materials in their manufacturing processes for as long as possible before declaring these materials to be a waste. This is not only a prudent activity from an economic perspective but also from a regulatory aspect, as well.
The question regarding when exactly a material becomes a hazardous waste often arises in these scenarios. In order to become a hazardous waste, subject to appropriate RCRA regulatory provisions, a material must first become a solid waste. A hazardous waste is essentially a solid waste that exhibits either one, or more, hazardous characteristics (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity) or is found on one, or more, specific listings within the RCRA regulations.
Materials become solid wastes at the moment the decision is made to discard them. The method by which materials such as solvents, degreasers, etchants, etc., become subject to regulation is when they are spent and the company then decides to discard them. RCRA has a specific definition for “spent materials.”
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