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Solid and Hazardous Waste 


See Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — General.
In summary, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Solid and Hazardous Waste Program established

  • the definitions of solid and hazardous wastes;
  • the design, operational, and management requirements for solid waste and hazardous waste landfills;
  • the design, operational, and management requirements for containers, structures, and vessels used to store, transport, or otherwise manage hazardous wastes;
  • a permitting system for facilities that treat, store, or dispose of hazardous wastes, (treatment, storage, and disposal facility permit or RCRA permit), which includes requirements for cleanup of any releases and bonding to ensure the availability of funds for possible future cleanups;
  • a “cradle-to-grave” manifest system used to inventory, identify, and track hazardous waste from generator through transportation and destruction or treatment; and
  • lists of wastes that cannot be disposed of on the land until treated or stabilized to reduce toxicity.

In addition, RCRA provides very specific requirements for managing hazardous wastes and a framework for managing solid wastes. However, states are responsible for determining the specific requirements for solid waste management.

Key Concepts

Solid Waste

Solid waste is anything a campus or other entity no longer needs or no longer wants, even if it is liquid or gaseous. Other terms for solid waste are “garbage,” “trash,” or “refuse.” Some recyclable materials, such as scrap metals, are exempt from the definition of solid waste, but others are not. The definition of solid waste is in 40 CFR 261.2.

The federal RCRA program encourages individual states to develop specific requirements for management of solid wastes. Examples of these include construction/demolition debris, tires, medical wastes, and petroleum wastes. Individual states may have more specific requirements than required by federal RCRA.

Hazardous Waste

Hazardous wastes are a specific category of solid wastes. RCRA identified two general categories of hazardous waste: those that are specifically “listed” in the regulations, and those that exhibit a hazardous “characteristic” by being flammable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic (see nearby table). Most empty containers are not hazardous waste under federal RCRA rules. Although it may be dangerous, most waste that comes from residential settings is not hazardous under the federal RCRA rules. As with solid waste, states may have more specific requirements than required by federal RCRA.

Acute Hazardous Wastes (P-Listed Wastes)

Certain hazardous wastes are subject to higher levels of regulation. These are acute hazardous or “P-listed” wastes. With the exception of a few pesticides, laboratories are usually the only activities on a campus that will generate these wastes. Examples include arsenic compounds, azides, cyanides, and osmium tetroxide. The complete P-list is in 40 CFR 261.33.

Used reagents on this list are not automatically acute hazardous waste. Under federal standards, acute hazardous waste is only an unused discard, an off-specification product, or a container residue where the chemical in the P-list is the sole active ingredient. There are specific rules for empty containers that held these wastes in 40 CFR 261.7.

Hazardous Waste Determination

A hazardous waste determination is the decision that something is a waste, followed by the decision that the regulations consider it hazardous waste or simply a solid waste. At this point, the waste becomes subject to regulation. Failure to make a waste determination is a serious and common breach of the RCRA regulations. Such a failure can also result in unknown wastes, which can be very expensive to manage.


The “generator” is the entity that creates the waste. The vast majority of the liability associated with hazardous waste lies with the generator. Recent EPA interpretive guidance makes it clear that employees act as agents of their employer for the purposes of generation. On college and university campuses, the corporate entity is the generator, not the individual. Generators may be required to obtain a generator identification number from EPA, using a specific notification form.

Generator Status

The operational and management requirements for campuses that generate hazardous waste vary depending on the amount of hazardous waste generated within a site each month (see nearby table). To encourage waste reduction, the level of RCRA regulation is a function of the amount of waste generated. Regardless of the campus generator status, no amount of a hazardous waste is exempt from regulations.

Site, Onsite, and Contiguous Property

EPA regulates generators geographically by site, and this will factor into the determination of generator status. In most cases, the EPA definition of a “site” is a contiguous property bounded by public roads. The full definition is in 40 CFR 260.10. Colleges and universities should confirm state definitions for “site.”

Hazardous Waste Codes

For accounting purposes, EPA assigned alphanumeric waste codes to different types of wastes.


EPA requires that generators of hazardous waste perform a one-time notification. This notification uses a standard form that requires description of the site and hazardous waste codes generated at that site. This notification has to be updated if the information changes.

Hazardous Waste Manifest

This manifest is a multicopy document used to identify, quantify, and track hazardous waste from the generator to the point of destruction. Generators, transporters, and waste disposal facilities may have to transmit some copies of this document to EPA or the state environmental protection agency, depending on the locations of generation and the waste disposal facility. The generator must maintain other copies.

Land Disposal Restrictions (Land-Banned Wastes)

To minimize future soil and groundwater pollution, the 1984 Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments to RCRA phased out the disposal of certain hazardous wastes in landfills. These “land-banned” wastes cannot go to a landfill of any kind for disposal without first being treated or stabilized. Shipments of land-banned wastes require specific notifications from the generators to ensure compliance with the regulations.

Accumulation Areas

There are only three types of areas on a campus where a generator may accumulate hazardous waste prior to disposal:

  • satellite accumulation area (SAA);
  • accumulation area; and
  • treatment, storage, and disposal facility (TSDF).

Satellite Accumulation Area (SAA)

An SAA is a location within a room at or near the point where the waste is created. A campus may have many satellite accumulation areas, perhaps even one in each shop, laboratory, or studio. The federal RCRA regulations specifically limit the amount of waste that can be accumulated in an SAA to no more than 55 gallons of waste or 1 quart of acute hazardous waste, but there are no limits to the duration of waste accumulation. State requirements vary. SAA requirements apply to only small- and large-quantity generators.

Accumulation Area (90-, 180-, or 270-Day Area)

An accumulation area is a room or building, which must meet certain design requirements, that a generator uses to accumulate hazardous wastes prior to disposal. Specific operation and management requirements apply to campuses that choose to store hazardous wastes in accumulation areas, including the amount of time waste can accumulate in the area. Large-quantity generators can accumulate waste for 90 days, whereas small-quantity generators can accumulate waste for 180 or 270 days, depending on distance to a treatment facility. Conditionally exempt small-quantity generators do not have time limits on accumulation, except when waste quantities exceed 2,200 pounds or 2.2 pounds of acute hazardous waste. State and local fire codes may further restrict volumes and operations in an accumulation area.

Treatment, Storage, or Disposal Facility (TSDF)

A TSDF has an RCRA Operating Permit. Many specific design, operational, and management requirements — including the need for financial surety — apply to these permitted facilities. Securing an RCRA permit is a lengthy process. Some larger institutions opt for a Part B Permitted TSDF because of the flexibility and economies of scale such a facility provides.

Universal Waste (UW)

To encourage recycling of common or high-volume hazardous wastes, EPA created a separate category of regulated waste: universal waste. These are wastes that would otherwise be hazardous waste. Campuses can elect to manage some hazardous wastes using the universal waste regulations. Some types of regulated hazardous waste that count as UW include batteries, certain light bulbs, mercury from thermostats, and Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act-recalled pesticides. See Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — Universal Waste.

Does this apply to my campus?

Yes. At least some portion of RCRA solid and hazardous waste rules will apply to at least some activities on any campus.

There are few federal requirements for management of solid waste that is not hazardous. States may have recycling and reuse requirements.

What do I have to do?

RCRA has two basic requirements, or general duties. First, the generator must perform hazardous waste determinations on all solid waste streams. Second, the generator must ensure that all hazardous waste is managed in accordance with regulations, including offsite disposal in a permitted disposal facility.

Identification of hazardous waste streams, through a waste determination, is the first step toward RCRA compliance. After identification of waste streams, you must notify EPA and the state environmental agency, if applicable, of the generation of waste. Next, determine the RCRA hazardous waste generator status for each campus site.

Generator status will determine hazardous waste management requirements. Choose from the waste management options allowed under that status, including management as UW. If you use the UW management option, you must meet the requirements of that program. See Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — Universal Waste.

Select hazardous waste disposal contractors that can move waste off your campus within the time limits for accumulation, as determined by generator status. For large-quantity generators, this limit is 90 days. For small-quantity generators, this limit is 180 days or 270 days if the waste disposal facility is more than 600 miles distant. Conditionally exempt small-quantity generators do not have a storage time limit, as long as the hazardous waste accumulation does not exceed 2,200 pounds or 2.2 pounds of acute hazardous waste. If a conditionally exempt generator exceeds that accumulation limit, the campus must remove the waste accumulation within 90 days.

If you have campus sites that are large-quantity generators of hazardous waste, you must implement a “waste minimization program.” Small-quantity generators must make a “good faith effort” toward this goal. See Resource Conservation and Recovery Act — Waste Minimization.

The hazardous waste regulations of RCRA are a complicated environmental program. There is no one simple path to compliance. Campus personnel from all affected departments must understand the requirements and be involved in the decision- and policy-making process. Seek advice from campus counsel, outside consultants, and/or regulators before implementing exemptions.

Responsible control of campus wastes is an important step toward reducing long-term environmental risk. If the institution fails to manage wastes correctly, it retains all associated liability as the generator. Campus waste management is as dynamic as campus activities and personnel. Faculty retirements and hires, new research projects, construction, demolition, donations, real estate acquisitions, and other activities may alter campus waste streams, change regulatory requirements, and impose other compliance burdens.

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