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Tribal Compliance Assistance Center

Waste Management Resources

Background Information
Integrated Management
Collecting and Storing
Recycling and Composting
Landfilling and Combustion
Household Hazardous Waste Collection
Hazardous and Non-Typical Waste
Other Regulated Operations
Pollution Prevention

Background Information

EPA's Waste Management in Indian Country Web site provides information about EPA's tribal solid waste program.

Tribal governments may engage in solid waste management within their jurisdiction. Some tribes conduct waste management operations (e.g., waste collection and disposal) directly. Other tribes contract those services to private parties or enter into agreements with neighboring state or local governments. Proper management of solid waste is critical to public health and community resources.

Recycling can be an important part of waste management.

Because these activities could affect the environment, they may be subject to the following environmental regulations:

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Integrated Solid Waste Management

Integrated solid waste management involves using a combination of techniques and programs to manage a community's waste stream. To account for the variations in waste streams between communities, tribal government planners can tailor integrated waste management systems to fit their specific local needs. EPA suggests using the following priorities - in order - as tools to help set goals for integrated waste management systems and meet specific tribal needs.

Information on developing an integrated solid waste management plan (and many other waste issues) can be found at EPA's Waste Management in Indian Country Web site.

Integrated solid waste management programs typically begin with waste audits - an assessment of the tribal waste stream.

Waste Audits

A waste audit is a formal, structured process used to quantify the amount and types of waste generated by a tribal government, a tribal facility, or tribal members. A tribe's waste audits should assess and account for the amount of materials purchased, used, recycled, and disposed of. Information from audits will help identify current waste practices and how they can be improved. A waste audit includes four steps:

Audits can be done on any type of waste (e.g. paper and office waste, municipal waste, commercial and industrial waste, construction and demolition waste). There are a number of different ways to conduct a waste audit, such as visual waste audits, waste characterization, and desktop audits. The type of audit used depends on the type of waste, where it is to be conducted (tribal school, tribal housing, or other tribal facilities or operations), and what a tribe wants to get out of the audit. Audits help managers determine the most appropriate and effective source reduction programs for their community. Waste audits are a key to establishing waste and source reduction programs.

Waste Reduction

Waste reduction, also known as source reduction or waste prevention, means using less material to get a job done. Waste prevention methods help create less waste in the first place - before recycling. Because it avoids recycling, composting, landfilling, and combustion, source reduction can help reduce waste disposal and handling costs. An example of source reduction is buying products that use less packaging (buy larger containers or refill containers with bulk purchases). It also conserves resources.

Tribal governments can establish waste reduction goals that require a percent reduction in the solid waste stream before a particular year. Tribes can also encourage programs that are directed at conserving resources and reducing solid waste generation, thereby helping to mitigate the burden of collection, processing, and disposal practices. There are many ways tribes can modify their current practices to reduce waste generation; some of which are detailed below:

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Collecting and Storing Municipal Solid Waste

RCRA defines solid waste as any garbage or refuse; sludge from a wastewater treatment plant, water supply treatment plant, or air pollution control facility; and other discarded material, including solid, liquid, semi-solid, or contained gaseous material resulting from industrial, commercial, mining, and agricultural operations, and from community activities. The main constituent of the latter group is municipal solid waste, which includes paper and paperboard, yard waste, wood, metal, glass, food waste, plastics, rubber, leather, textiles, household hazardous waste, and miscellaneous inorganic waste.

Solid waste management begins with the collection and storage of solid waste. Collection involves either picking up the waste at or near the point of generation (e.g., curbside or backdoors) or gathering it from drop-off locations (such as community dumpsters or transfer stations). "Storage" of waste at an interim site, prior to recycling or final disposal, should be as brief as possible to discourage the formation of odors and the breeding of unwanted pests (i.e., rats, flies).


Tribal governments use an array of methods to collect solid waste.

Tribal governments use an array of methods to collect solid waste, including the following:

Most activities undertaken during collection are not regulated by any particular federal environmental statute. Federal guidelines for the collection and storage of residential, commercial, and institutional solid waste are found at 40 CFR Part 243, but are not binding upon tribal governments. Of course, there may be tribal environmental or health codes that pertain to the collection of solid waste.

Storage/Operation of Transfer Stations

Once the solid waste is collected, the tribal government or other collection entity may have to store the waste at an interim location prior to recycling or final disposal. If necessary, such storage usually occurs at a transfer station. A transfer station is a facility where wastes are transferred from smaller collection vehicles to larger transport vehicles, such as trucks, tractor-trailers, railroad gondola cars, or barges. These larger vehicles then transport the waste to its final destination.

Not all tribal governments have transfer stations. In small communities in which the nearest landfill is within 10 to 15 miles, compactor trucks take solid waste directly to the landfill. If stations are used, collection crews take waste to the transfer stations where it is weighed and either temporarily stored or moved directly into a larger vehicle.

These activities may impact the environment if waste is not contained and is carried away from the transfer station by wind or stormwater runoff. Potential regulation of the activities may be found or included in:

Storage should be on a short-term basis only and should prevent the waste from being released to the environment. In some conditions, improper storage could be deemed disposal and could trigger more stringent regulation of the waste.

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Recycling and Composting

EPA's Resource Conservation Challenge Web site provides material on pollution prevention in construction and maintenance.

Recycling, the next level of the integrated solid waste management hierarchy, is the process by which materials are collected and used as raw materials for new products. Recycling includes collecting recyclable materials, separating materials by type, processing them into a form that can be sold as scrap material, and purchasing and using goods made with reprocessed materials. Recycling prevents potentially useful materials from being landfilled or combusted, and allows disposal capacity to be preserved, while saving energy and natural resources. Similarly, composting can play a key role in diverting organic waste away from disposal facilities.

By definition, recycling does not occur until someone transforms or remanufactures the material into a usable or marketable product or material. Tribes can locate markets for its recyclable materials or place that responsibility with the entity responsible for collecting recyclables. This process is similar to marketing any product or commodity and involves four distinct steps:

Recycling is best when it is as "clean" and separated as possible. In rural areas, recycling can be very successful when tribes use the process to make a final "product" that is then sold within the community. In more urban settings, tribes can participate in partnerships that accomplish recycling in the general scrap market, and do not necessarily lead to a single, identifiable product.

The major environmental impact associated with recycling is the volume of waste diverted (reduced) from landfills or incineration. This diversion extends the life of landfills and limits the volume of wastes being combusted. The most significant environmental impact from these activities is resource conservation; however, these activities can also significantly reduce criteria (i.e., carbon monoxide, particulate matter) and toxic (i.e., dioxin) air pollution.

Federal environmental statutes do not directly regulate the recycling of typical solid wastes (e.g., paper, plastic, glass, aluminum). Used oil recycling, however, is regulated under 40 CFR Part 279, which establishes standards for used oil generators, collection centers, transporters and transfer facilities, processors and re-refiners, burners of off-specification used oil, used oil fuel marketers, the use of used oil as a dust suppressant, and used oil disposal. Used oil generated by households is exempt from these requirements but still is prohibited from being released into the environment.

Many tribal recycling ventures focus on collection in tribal government offices, as well as in business enterprises, including casinos and hotels, and homes on the reservation. These efforts are part of the tribes' integrated solid waste management plan and not only reduce waste and energy usage, but also provide an employment source. Tribal recycling programs can also cover non-members.


For further information, visit EPA's Composting and EPA's Solid Waste-Composting Web sites.

Composting is a process of aerobic biological decomposition of organic materials to produce a stable and usable organic topsoil that does not require disposal. Resources used to create the final compost product originate from the roughly 25 percent of the municipal solid waste stream that is organic material (i.e., food waste/scraps, yard and lawn clippings). If paper waste is included, almost 60 percent of the municipal solid waste can be composted. EPA's Composting and EPA's Solid Waste-Composting Web sites provide useful information.

Three primary activities are associated with composting:

Tribal governments can collect or receive wastes for composting from a variety of sources, including tribal business ventures, including casinos, hotels, and schools. Tribal governments may have active yard waste collection programs, complete with trucks that vacuum up leaves.

Other tribes may have separate yard waste pickup as a part of recycling programs or drop-off stations for yard wastes. Significant composting wastes also result from recyclable material separation and processing. Once recyclable materials are removed from the solid waste stream, the remaining wastes may be suitable for composting. For example, one southern tribe composts nearly 1,200 pounds of food waste per day from its casino and restaurants. The tribe distributes the final product to landscapers, nurseries, and homes both on and off the reservation. During the processing or decomposition stage of composting, the tribal government may need to adjust the physical and chemical properties of the waste to make it more amenable to composting. For example:

All of these activities are designed to facilitate decomposition. Depending on the types and amounts used, chemicals added to alter the properties of the composted waste may be regulated under EPCRA, FIFRA, or Section 112(r) of the CAA (risk management plans). Composting that occurs outside may create nuisance odors. Tribal ordinances may address odor problems.

A key aspect of composting programs is the concept of biosolids recycling. Sewage sludge biosolids are solid, semi-solid, or liquid residue generated during the treatment of domestic sewage in a wastewater treatment plant. The requirements for land application of biosolids at 40 CFR Part 503 pertain to materials derived from biosolids (e.g., biosolids that have undergone a change in quality through treatment, such as composting, or by mixing with other materials, such as wood chips, municipal solid waste, or yard waste). These regulations specify pollutant limits, management practices, operating standards, monitoring requirements, and record keeping and reporting requirements.

Composting of household organic materials is not regulated by any major federal statutes. Tribes can establish composting programs or ordinances. Composting is encouraged if tribes create markets for the compost by using it in landscaping or specifying its use at tribal facilities. Composting can also address odor problems and promote best management practices that minimize fire risks.

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Disposal Through Landfilling and Waste Combustion


EPA's MSW Disposal Web site provides information on solid waste landfills and solid waste combustion and incineration facilities.

Tribal governments may dispose of solid waste that is not recyclable, compostable, or considered household hazardous waste. The two primary types of disposal practices are landfilling and municipal waste combustion (incineration), which may employ conventional techniques or a "waste-to-energy" approach.

Used tires can represent a significant waste challenge.

Landfilling and waste combustion provide the last level of the solid waste management hierarchy because they manage waste that cannot be reduced or recycled. Some tribes might choose landfilling as their principal method of managing waste, while other tribes may choose to send their waste to a municipal waste combustor. Disposal decisions are made based on a variety of factors, including cost, land availability, population characteristics, and proximity to waterbodies.

Landfill Operation

Some tribal governments own and operate solid waste landfills for final disposal of the municipal solid waste generated within their jurisdictions; other tribes manage waste for surrounding jurisdictions. Solid waste landfills provide an engineered facility for the long-term containment of solid waste and involve the following activities:

Most landfills include a large disposal area that contains numerous smaller cells. Solid waste is deposited in these cells daily, compacted using specially designed bulldozers, and then generally covered with either a thin layer of soil or some alternative cover. The landfill owner and operator should control the flow of solid waste into the facility to exclude materials such as hazardous waste or other materials that should be managed elsewhere or could be recycled to make the landfill safer and preserve capacity. Once a cell is full, it is covered with a final cover designed to limit infiltration and pest populations, as well as to provide a base for subsequently placing and growing vegetation on the landfill.

Landfill operations are subject to the minimum criteria for municipal solid waste landfills found at 40 CFR Part 258. These criteria address location restrictions, operating criteria, design criteria, groundwater monitoring and corrective action requirements, closure and post-closure care requirements, and financial assurance criteria. If a municipal solid waste landfill subject to this rule does not meet the requirements, it is considered an open dump, which is prohibited under Section 4005 of RCRA.

Under the CAA, landfills are subject to air emission guidelines, 40 CFR Part 60.30c, and a NESHAP for emissions from landfills, 40 CFR Part 63 Subpart AAAA. In addition, landfills may be regulated under prevention of significant deterioration (PSD), nonattainment area provisions, and new source performance standards (NSPS) programs.

Landfills do have drawbacks, such as the fact that they eventually leak and can cause environmental hazards and public nuisances (e.g., odors and pests). Successful maintenance and landfill operation requires continuous budgeting for leak repair and general upkeep, and for eventual closure.

Tribal governments must monitor groundwater in close proximity to a tribally run landfill. They may also be required to employ a series of wells and pipes to extract the landfill gas that is created as solid waste decomposes in a landfill. This gas consists of about 50 percent methane (CH4), the primary component of natural gas, about 50 percent carbon dioxide (CO2), and a small amount of non-methane organic compounds. Instead of allowing landfill gas to escape into the air, it can be captured, converted, and used as an energy source. Using landfill gas helps to reduce odors and other hazards associated with these gas emissions, and it helps prevent methane from migrating into the atmosphere and contributing to local smog and global climate change. Stormwater runoff associated with landfills may be regulated under the CWA stormwater provisions.

Municipal Waste Combustion - Specifically Designed Combustion Facilities

An alternative method to managing solid waste is combustion, which involves the incineration of all or a portion of the solid waste stream. Combustion should take place in specially designed solid waste combustion facilities and residual ash should be disposed in a landfill which may be a hazardous waste landfill depending upon the composition of the ash.

When choosing to use municipal combustion, tribal governments can retrofit existing facilities, build new facilities, or enter into partnerships with other tribes or state and local governments. If a new facility is built, the builder must site, design (incorporating elaborate air pollution controls), permit, and construct the combustion facility. Once a combustion facility is in place, the tribal government must ensure its proper operation, provide a relatively constant flow of waste as a feed stream, and manage and dispose of the residual ash. Most new incinerators have the capacity to recover and reuse the energy released during combustion (the "waste-to-energy" process).

Municipal waste combustion is regulated primarily under the CAA, 40 CFR Part 60, which establishes guidelines and standards of performance for both large and small municipal waste combustors, as well as standards of performance for incinerators. Regulations under RCRA would only apply if the facility receives and burns hazardous waste. Other CAA regulatory programs to which combustion may be subject are PSD, nonattainment provisions, NESHAPs, and NSPS.

The disposal of residual ash from the combustion of municipal waste, including fly ash and bottom ash, is regulated under RCRA and the law where disposal will take place. Generally, these two types of ash are combined and then disposed of either at a municipal landfill or a special ash landfill. Under RCRA, each facility must determine whether the combined ash constitutes a hazardous waste and, if so, the ash must be managed as a hazardous waste. If the ash is not a hazardous waste, it can be managed under tribal or state law, which may allow disposal in a solid waste landfill or provide for disposal in an ash monofill (or impose other special requirements).

Certain forms of combustion and burning such as bonfires and backyard burning should not be used as they put toxic substance into the air. They also may violate certain provisions of the CAA.

Municipal Waste Combustion - Backyard Burning

Burning of household waste is a long-standing practice in many rural areas, including Indian country and Alaskan Native villages. New research, however, shows that it is a major source of toxic emissions, including:

Each of these can damage both human health and the environment. Open burning of household waste creates significant amounts of dioxins due to the low combustion temperatures, poor air distribution, and the presence of chlorine, which is found in almost all household waste components. Backyard burning of household waste is one of the largest known sources of dioxin in the nation.

Controlling backyard burning and reducing combustion-related toxic emissions is particularly important to tribes and tribal members. Toxic emissions from backyard burning can accumulate in:

In addition, toxic emissions can cause immediate and long-term damage to:

The damage is especially a problem for children, the elderly, and those with preexisting respiratory conditions. Finally, ash from backyard burning also is likely to contain toxic pollutants, such as mercury, lead, chromium, and arsenic, which can contaminate vegetables if scattered in gardens. Children can also accidentally swallow contaminated dirt on their hands while playing near discarded ash.

Tribes can regulate tribal member backyard burning by establishing and enforcing regulations and ordinances. EPA, on the other hand, does not generally regulated residential backyard burning. While tribal regulation may be available, providing and promoting safer waste management alternatives is essential to reducing backyard burning. Tribes can educate tribal members about the health and environmental dangers of backyard burning. Tribes can also promote alternatives to leaf, brush, and trash burning by establishing solid waste collection programs and encouraging tribal members to compost and reduce, reuse, and recycle.

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Household Hazardous Waste Collection and Storage

Common Household Hazardous Wastes include: oil-based paint and varnish, paint and varnish remover, pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, motor oil, brake fluid, fuels, antifreeze, oven cleaners, drain cleaners, bleach, solvents, pool chemicals, mothballs, dye, nail polish, photo chemicals, toilet cleaners, fertilizer, metal polish, floor cleaners, wood strippers, muriatic acid, creosote, sealants, and both household and automotive batteries.

Tribal governments may sponsor basic household hazardous waste collection programs. These programs may be single-day or continuous events that provide for the safe collection, identification, sorting, storage, and disposal or reuse of household hazardous waste. Such programs may be operated by the tribal government or administered under a contract with a waste management firm. The materials collected during a household hazardous waste collection program may be recycled (e.g., used oil), used as a waste fuel (e.g., solvents), or disposed of properly at hazardous waste facilities.

Household hazardous waste poses an environmental and health risk when managed improperly. These products may contain toxic substances that can be released when they are poured down the sink, sewer, onto the ground, or when they are landfilled or incinerated. The dangers of such disposal methods may not be immediately obvious, but certain types of household hazardous waste have the potential to cause physical injury to sanitation workers; contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems if poured down drains or toilets; and present hazards to children and pets if left around the house. Thus, many tribal governments have established household hazardous waste collection, storage, and disposal programs.

Under federal regulation, the collection, transportation, storage, treatment, and disposal of household hazardous waste are exempt from the regulations applicable to commercial hazardous waste. In addition, resource recovery facilities that manage municipal solid waste are not subject to hazardous waste regulations (with the exception of ash that exhibits a hazardous characteristic, such as toxicity) if they meet specified conditions. Tribes may develop laws that regulate the disposal of household hazardous waste, including requiring the separation of waste streams.

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Partnership in Solid Waste Management

Many tribal governments partner with other tribes, as well as state and local governments to manage solid waste. These partnerships help tribes supplement and combine resources to effectively establish, manage, and maintain municipal solid waste management projects. Partnerships offer a variety of benefits, including:

Tribes interested in partnerships should contact EPA or contact other tribes directly.

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Hazardous and Non-Typical Waste

Hazardous waste, including industrial wastes and toxic chemical waste, is governed by RCRA standards, 40 CFR Parts 264 and 265. Tribes cannot be authorized by the EPA to administer and enforce a hazardous waste program under RCRA. Several tribes do, however, partner with EPA, states and local governments to provide hazardous waste clean up and storage services.

In Indian country, generally EPA issues permits to facilities that treat, store, and dispose of hazardous waste under RCRA. Permits for Treatment Storage and Disposal (TSD) facilities are designed to control the operations at the facility, and include requirements for:

TSD facilities are designed to protect soil, groundwater, and air resources by establishing minimum management standards and precautions. An EPA training module (PDF) (20 pp, 94K, About PDF) on RCRA Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs) provides an introduction to the TSDF standards in 40 CFR part 264/265, Subparts A through E.

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Other Operations That May be Regulated

Another operation associated with solid waste management is pesticide application. Pesticides may be used in solid waste management activities to control weed growth and control disease vectors. Activities related to pesticide use and storage may be regulated under the provisions of FIFRA, EPCRA, or CAA Section 112(r). Section 3.10 provides information on pesticide management.

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Pollution Prevention in Solid Waste Management Operations

EPA's National Waste Minimization Program provides information on ways to promote waste reduction.

Numerous opportunities exist for pollution prevention in solid waste management operations. As the lead department for "putting waste in its place," tribal solid waste departments can show their commitment to waste reduction by ensuring that their operations prevent pollution and comply with the applicable environmental regulations. Solid waste managers engage in a range of activities, most with the potential to cause pollution. These can generally be categorized as follows:

With the exception of source reduction, each category generates wastes as described below.

Typical Wastes Generated

Curbside collection or drop off facilities are provided for solid waste and recyclables, and other materials and special wastes. Key wastes generated by collection operations include used motor oil and filters, antifreeze, batteries, parts washer solvent, used hydraulic oil, tires, used vehicles and vehicle parts, and air emissions.

The processing of recyclables at material recovery facilities, solid waste at transfer stations, and yard waste at compost sites, often generates waste. Key wastes include dust from compost sites, hydraulic oil, site runoff, recycling residues, electrical transformers, and spilled fuels.

Waste disposal includes landfill and waste-to-energy facility operations. Key landfill wastes include leachate and air emissions. Key waste-to-energy facility wastes include bottom ash, fly ash, bulky materials, air pollution control residues, air emissions, and wastewater.

Tribal governments that operate household hazardous waste collection operations typically assume generator status for household materials upon acceptance at the collection point. Problematic wastes include PCBs and mercury from fluorescent ballasts and lights, paints, and computer monitors.

Top Pollution Prevention Opportunities

Perform a waste audit - understand the waste stream in order to identify high priority items for source reduction and reuse (e.g., textiles, yard waste, construction and demolition material).




Household Hazardous Waste

Educate household hazardous waste participants to "use it up," provide a waste exchange for unopened materials, and bulk containerize latex paint for reuse or resale.


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For related information visit EPA’s National Indian Country Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Priority site and EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program in Indian country site.

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