Hazardous Waste Back to the Gateway

Managing Hazardous (RCRA) Wastes

Hazardous Waste Determination

Any solid, liquid, or contained gaseous material that is discarded by being disposed of, burned or incinerated, or recycled falls into a regulatory category that EPA terms "solid waste" (whether or not the waste material itself is solid, in the usual sense of the term). Certain solid wastes are considered by EPA to be "hazardous wastes" on the basis of a set of definitions and rules. The complete set can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations, 40 CFR Part 261.

It is the responsibility of every business to determine if any waste they generate is a hazardous waste. The rules can get complicated, but here is a general outline of how to determine whether a waste is hazardous.

Hazardous waste can be the byproduct of a manufacturing process, or simply a commercial product that you use in your business (including such materials as cleaning fluid or battery acid) and that is being disposed of. Note that even materials that are recyclable, or that can be used in some other application (such as solvents that can be burned for fuel) might be considered hazardous waste.

In basic terms, a solid waste can be considered a hazardous waste if it meets either of two conditions:

  • A "listed hazardous waste" is a material that appears on one of several regulatory lists:
  • A "characteristic hazardous waste" is a material that does not appear on one of the hazardous waste lists, but is still considered hazardous because it demonstrates one or more of the four hazardous characteristics because it is:
You can find more complete explanations of the hazardous waste determination process at HERC and FedCenter.

Generator Status

In order to regulate the over 800,000 hazardous waste generators in the United States cost effectively, EPA in 1985 established three types of generators:

Conditionally-Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CE-SQG) who generate less than 100 kg of non-acute hazardous waste a month, less than 1 kg of acute hazardous waste a month (e.g. p-listed wastes such as epinephrine) and less than 100 kg of residues or contaminated soil, waste, and other debris from the spill cleanup of acute hazardous waste;

Small Quantity Generators (SQG) who generate between 100 kg and 1000 kg of non-acute hazardous waste a month, less than 1 kg of acute hazardous waste a month, and less than 100 kg of spill residue from acute hazardous waste; and

Large Quantity Generators (LQG) who generate 1000 kg or more of non-acute hazardous waste a month, 1 kg or more of acute hazardous waste a month, and 100 kg or more of spill residue from acute hazardous waste.

A CE-SQG is exempt from the regulation as long as it complies with the set of regulations described in Section 261.5. Hence the name conditionally-exempt small quantity generator. An SQG must meet limited requirements in Part 262. These reduced requirements for SQGs are to ensure that while some tracking of and accountability for the waste is placed on the small quantity generator, the requirements are not so burdensome as to prevent compliance. An LQG, of course, must meet the full set of Part 262 requirements.

Please note that a facility’s generator status may change from month to month. One can be a CE-SQG in January and a LQG in February. Since generators are required to comply with all applicable requirements according to their generator status, one should probably evaluate the risks associated with changing status on a month to month basis on one’s environmental and legal liabilities.

EPA Identification Number

Small quantity generators (SQG) and large quantity generators (LQG) ONLY are required under the Federal hazardous waste program to obtain an EPA ID number and use it when manifesting wastes off-site. This allows EPA and the states to track waste activities. One can obtain an EPA ID number by calling your EPA Regional Office. [One can link to the regional locator here or create a slide of the specific numbers in each region for EPA ID numbers]

Biennial Report

As for reporting, large quantity generators (LQG) only are required to submit a biennial report to their EPA regional office by March 1 of every even numbered year. This reporting requirement is intended to provide EPA with reliable national data on hazardous waste management. The report includes:

  • EPA ID number, name and address of the generator, and every transporter, treatment, storage, and disposal facility and recycler used
  • Descriptions and quantities of waste; and
  • Actions taken to reduce the volume and toxicity of the waste, and the results of those actions.

Quantity Limits for Hazardous Waste

Both conditionally-exempt small quantity generators (CE-SQG) and small quantity generators (SQG) have limits on how much hazardous waste they can store at their facility at any one time. If they go above those limits, they need to comply with the requirements of the next higher generator category.

For non-acute hazardous waste, this limit is 1000 kg or 2,200 lbs for a CE-SQG and 6000 kg or 13,200 lbs for a SQG.

For acute hazardous waste, the limit is the same for both: 1 kg for an acute hazardous waste or 100 kg for spill residue from an acute hazardous waste.

An LQG can store as much hazardous waste as it wants on site. There is no quantity limitation.

Time Limits

The length of time that hazardous waste can be stored on-site varies depending on generator status:

  • There are no time limits placed on a CE-SQG for the storage of hazardous waste. [Although there is a limit on how much hazardous waste a conditionally-exempt small quantity generator (CE-SQG) can accumulate on site, one of the advantages of being a CE-SQG is that as long as one remains below that limit (see discussion above), one can store that waste forever.]
  • Small quantity generators (SQG) can only keep their waste on–site for 180 days or 270 days if their treatment, storage, and disposal facility is more than 270 miles away.
  • Large quantity generators (LQG) can only store their waste for 90 days without obtaining a permit as a storage facility.

Storing Hazardous Waste

Small quantity generators (SQG) and large quantity generators (LQG) have additional requirements placed on them when storing their hazardous waste. They are recommended for conditionally-exempt small quantity generators but not required.

There are two types of storage areas: the satellite accumulation area and the main hazardous waste storage area. The satellite accumulation area is an area at or near the point of hazardous waste generation and under the control of the operator of the process generating the waste where the wastes are allowed to be temporarily stored for 3 days before being moved to the main hazardous waste storage area. The main hazardous waste storage area can be anywhere at the facility and is where the facility stores their waste before being sent off-site for treatment, disposal, or recycling. There can also be more than one main storage area. The requirements for each storage area are listed below.

Satellite Accumulation Areas
  • Can accumulate up to 55 gallons of non-acute hazardous waste or one quart of acute hazardous waste
  • Required to date the containers when the above quantity limits are reached so that the generator can remove the hazardous waste to the main hazardous waste storage area or ship the wastes off-site within 3 days of reaching the above limits
  • Need to keep the containers closed except when adding or removing wastes; and
  • Must mark the containers with either the words “Hazardous Waste” or with other words that identify the contents of the container.

Main Hazardous Waste Storage Areas
  • Required to comply with the hazardous waste time and quantity limits appropriate to your generator status;
  • Must keep the containers sealed except when adding or removing wastes, in good condition, and secured from failure (i.e., the container’s material needs to be compatible with the waste)
  • Must conduct weekly inspections with log book entries; and
  • Need to label each container with the words “Hazardous Waste”, the specific description of its contents, and the date on which the container first entered the main storage area. In regards to this latter point, if you have several main hazardous waste storage areas at your facility, you cannot start the clock over again by moving your wastes from one main hazardous waste storage area to another. The date is the time the container first left the satellite accumulation area and was transferred to a main storage area.

Emergency Planning

Small quantity generators (SQG) and large quantity generators (LQG) have specific requirements placed on them under RCRA so that they are prepared for emergencies involving hazardous waste. These requirements are recommended for conditionally-exempt small quantity generators but not required.

First, they must have an adequate internal alarm or communication system in place. Voice is Ok for small facilities.

Second, they must also designate an emergency coordinator and an alternate who is on the premises or on call at all times. Thus if an inspector shows up at your door when your emergency coordinator is on vacation and no one can answer his questions, you will be in violation of this requirement of RCRA.

Third, they must post emergency information by the phone. Employees should not have to go searching through a bunch of papers for the number of the local fire department when there is a chemical fire looming in the background. It should be right by the phone. This emergency information should include the name, office, and home phone numbers, and address of the emergency coordinator. Particular attention should be paid to outside hazardous waste sheds to make sure that employees can call for emergency assistance quickly and easily since in many cases there is no phone in the shed.

Fourth, SQGs and LQGs must ensure adequate aisle space for emergency response, adequate water for fire fighting, and have available properly maintained fire extinguishers and alarms, spill control material, and decontamination supplies.

Fifth, they must make advanced emergency arrangements with the police and fire departments, emergency response teams, equipment suppliers and emergency contractors, and hospitals.

Finally, LQGs only are required to prepare a written contingency plan which is designed to minimize hazards from fires, explosions, or any unplanned release of hazardous waste or hazardous waste constituents into the environment. It is recommended for SQGs but not required. SQGs are only required to establish basic safety guidelines and response procedures. This written contingency plan must be kept on-site and an additional copy must be submitted to all local emergency service providers.

Personnel Training

One of the most common questions is what hazardous waste training does a small quantity generator (SQG) need to give their employees? Under RCRA, an SQG must ensure that all employees are thoroughly familiar with the proper waste handling and emergency procedures relevant to their responsibilities. Large quantity generators (LQG), on the other hand, must have a formal personnel training program in place in accordance with the requirements in 265.16 and 262.34(a)(4). This requires initial training and annual review that teaches proper waste management and familiarizes them with procedures, equipment, and systems to effectively respond to emergencies. Please note that conditionally-exempt small quantity generators are not legally required to train their employees on hazardous waste management and emergency procedures but it is highly recommended.

Hazardous Waste Minimization

Under RCRA, small quantity generators (SQG) must make a good faith effort to minimize waste generation and to select the best available waste management method that they can afford. Large quantity generators (LQG), on the other hand, are actually required to have a formal hazardous waste minimization program in place to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste generated to the degree economically practicable, and must select a currently available treatment, storage, or disposal method that minimizes present or future threats. Please remember that when one signs a hazardous waste manifest, one is stating to EPA that one’s facility has a hazardous waste minimization program.


RCRA requires that SQGs and LQGs of hazardous waste inspect containers in storage (not in satellite accumulation areas) at least weekly for signs of leaks, corrosion, or other deterioration and record those inspections in a log. At a minimum, these records must include the date and time of inspection, the name of the inspector, a notation of the observations made, and the date and nature of any repairs or other remedial actions.  A facility may choose its own format for recording such observations as long as the format provides for full documentation of observations and any remedial actions taken. If a checklist is chosen as the documentation format, the checklists must be filled out completely. Each item on the checklist must be addressed by means of a check  mark or other item-specific notation. (40CFR 265.15(d))

Shipping Waste Off-Site

As for shipping wastes off-site, conditionally-exempt small quantity generators (CE-SQG) are required to ensure delivery of their hazardous wastes to either a RCRA treatment storage and disposal facility (TSDF), a state authorized solid waste facility, or a recycler. If a CE-SQG sends its wastes to any other facility, it will lose its exemption and must comply with the requirements for a small quantity generator (SQG). The key here is the term “ensure delivery”. The fact that a CE-SQG can send their hazardous wastes to a municipal landfill does not mean they can throw that wastes in the trash. The wastes are at a minimum required to get to the destination intact. So throwing fluorescent light bulbs in the trash will not be permitted since the odds of the bulbs getting to the landfill intact are small. One should check with one’s state hazardous waste program on how they interpret the phrase “ensure delivery.”

As for small quantity generators (SQG) and large quantity generators (LQG), they must send their wastes to either a RCRA TSDF or a recycling facility. Their wastes cannot go to a municipal landfill. In addition, they must ensure that hazardous waste shipments are properly packaged, labeled, marked, and placarded to Department of Transportation regulations. This is usually done by the transporter. Furthermore, they must prepare hazardous waste manifests correctly which allow all parties involved in hazardous waste management (e.g.. generators, transporters, TSDFs, EPA and state agencies) to track the movement of hazardous wastes from the point of generation to the point of ultimate treatment, storage, and disposal. Each time a waste is transferred (e.g., from the generator to the transporter, the transporter to the TSDF, or from a transporter to a transporter if there is more than one), the manifest must be signed to acknowledge receipt of waste. A copy of this manifest is retained by each individual in the transportation chain. Once the waste is delivered to the TSDF, the TSDF must sign the manifest and return a copy to the generator. Thereby, closing the loop and letting the generator know that his waste has safely arrived at its ultimate destination. SQGs and LQGs must keep copies of the manifests that are signed by the TSDF for 3 years. If they do not receive a copy back from the TSDF in 35 days, they must investigate why this is the case and if they do not receive the copy back in 45 days, they must notify EPA. States may have shorter time periods. Finally, SQGs and LQGs must ensure that their hazardous waste meets the land disposal restriction (LDR) requirements and send the receiving TSDF a completed LDR form.

Hazardous Waste Manifest

A hazardous waste manifest must accompany all hazardous waste that is shipped off site. A hazardous waste manifest is a multipart form designed to track hazardous waste from generation to disposal. It will help you to track your waste during shipment and make sure it arrives at the proper destination. If you send waste to a recycling facility, you may be able to use a tolling agreement instead of a manifest. A tolling agreement is a "closed-loop" arrangement whereby a generator contracts with a recycling company to reclaim its hazardous waste and return it as a recycled product, thereby avoiding disposal. A copy of the contract must be kept on file for three years after the contract has ended.

You must fill in all parts of a manifest. Information requested includes: name of transporter, name of the designated facility, your EPA ID number, and a description of the waste based on DOT requirements, such as proper shipping name and hazard class. Call the DOT information line for more information on DOT waste description requirements.

The transporter signs the completed manifest when the shipment is accepted for transport. The facility operator at the designated TSDF also signs the form when the shipment is received and sends a copy of it back to you. You must keep this copy on file for three years. (It might be a good practice, however, to keep it for as long as you are in business.)

Any SQG that does not receive a signed copy of the manifest from the designated TSDF within 60 days of shipment must submit a legible copy of the manifest to the state or EPA regional office. This copy, known as an exception report, simply indicates that a signed copy was not received from the facility operator.

Please note: A new hazardous waste manifest form went into effect on September 5, 2006. See the EPA web page on the Hazardous Waste Manifest System for details. A useful training video is also available.

Recordkeeping and Reporting

Biennial Report (SQGs and LQGs only)

SQGs and LQGs who ship hazardous waste off-site to a treatment, storage, disposal (TSD) facility must prepare and submit a Biennial Report to the EPA Regional Administrator by March 1 of each even numbered year (1998, 2000, 2002, etc.). Use EPA Form 8700-13A/B for submitting the report, and include the following information:

  • The EPA identification number, name, and address of the generator;
  • The calendar year covered by the report
  • Your EPA identification number, name, and address for each off-site treatment, storage, or disposal facility to which waste was shipped
  • The name and EPA identification number of each transporter used
  • A description, EPA hazardous waste number (from 40 CFR part 261, subpart C or D), DOT hazard class, and quantity of each hazardous waste shipped off-site
  • A description of the efforts undertaken during the year to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste generated.
  • A description of the changes in volume and toxicity of waste actually achieved during the year in comparison to previous years
  • The certification signed by the generator or authorized representative.

Some states require have more frequent reporting requirements (e.g., annually).

Exception Reporting (SQGs and LQGs only)

Exception reports are part of the RCRA tracking system. After you send waste off-site for disposal, the TSDF is required to return to you a copy of the original manifest. If you don't receive the manifest from the TSDF, then you must submit an Exception Report. SQGs must file a Exception Report if they have not received a copy of the manifest with the handwritten signature of the owner or operator of the designated facility within 45 days of the date the waste was accepted by the initial transporter. There is no special form for the Exception Report. You can write directly on a copy of the manifest or attach a separate sheet of paper (handwritten or typed). Make sure you include:

  • A legible copy of the manifest in question
  • A statement explaining the efforts taken to locate the hazardous waste
  • Your signature

The Exception Reporting requirements for LQGs are a little different. If you do not receive a copy of the manifest within 35 days of the date that the waste was accepted by the original transporter, you must contact the transporter and TSDF to determine the status of the waste. If you still haven't received a copy of the manifest within 45 days, then you must submit the Exception Report as described above for SQGs.


You must retain records for three years, including:

  • Manifests
  • Biennial Reports
  • Exception Reports
  • Any test results, waste analyzes, or similar information related to the waste shipped off-site
  • Your inspection schedule and reports. (Specific inspection requirements are found in 40 CFR 265.15.)

The three-year time period is automatically extended indefinitely if you have any unresolved enforcement action. In this case, maintain the files until all matters are fully resolved.