Regulatory Exclusions and Alternative Standards for the Recycling of Materials, Solid Wastes and Hazardous Wastes
Hazardous wastes do not cease to be dangerous simply because they are being reused, recycled, or reclaimed. Many hazardous waste recycling operations may pose serious health and environmental hazards and should be subject to regulation under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
Reuse, recycling, and reclamation should be viewed as ways of managing hazardous wastes which, if properly conducted, can avoid environmental hazards, protect scarce natural resources, and reduce the nation’s reliance on raw materials and energy. Promoting reuse and recovery is certainly one of the goals of RCRA; however, this goal does not take precedence over ensuring the proper management of hazardous waste.
On this page:
- Determining Applicable Levels of Regulation
- Recycled Materials that are not Subject to RCRA Hazardous Waste Regulation
- Materials Subject to Alternative Regulatory Controls When Recycled
- Materials Subject to Full Hazardous Waste Regulation When Recycled
A determination about a whether or not a waste is classified as a solid waste is the crucial first step in the Hazardous Waste Identification Process. A material cannot be regulated as a hazardous waste unless it is first determined to be a solid waste. When recycling, how a material is regulated under RCRA (i.e., whether or not it is a solid and potentially a hazardous waste) depends on what type of material it is and what type of recycling is occurring.
To determine which regulations apply to recycled materials, the generator should consider what the materials is and the manner in which it will be recycled. To address the goal of encouraging recycling while protecting human health and the environment, EPA tailored the level of regulation to reflect the actual hazard of the recycling activity. In this approach to regulation, recycling standards range from full regulation to specialized standards to exemptions from regulation.
The generator is responsible for determining whether the recyclable secondary material is subject to reduced requirements or full regulation. Under the RCRA hazardous waste regulations, materials that are recycled may be:
- Not subject to RCRA hazardous waste regulation
- Subject to alternative controls when recycled
- Subject to full RCRA hazardous waste regulation
RCRA also provides regulations to distinguish legitimate recycling practices from “sham recycling.” To learn more about this topic, please view our Web page on the definition of legitimate recycling.
In order to encourage recycling practices, certain materials are specifically excluded from the definition of solid waste, and some solid wastes are excluded from the definition of hazardous waste. Furthermore, certain hazardous wastes are exempt from regulation when recycled. These three categories are discussed below.
- Recycled Materials Specifically Excluded from the Definition of Solid Waste
In order to encourage waste recycling, RCRA exempts three types of wastes from the definition of solid waste:
- Waste Used as an Ingredient: If a material is directly used as an ingredient in a production process without first being reclaimed, then that material is not a solid waste.
- Waste Used as a Product Substitute: If a material is directly used as an effective substitute for a commercial product (without first being reclaimed), it is exempt from the definition of solid waste.
- Wastes Returned to the Production Process: When a material is returned directly to the production process (without first being reclaimed) for use as a feedstock or raw material, it is not a solid waste.
The following materials, when recycled, are excluded from the definition of solid waste and are therefore not subject to RCRA Subtitle C regulation:
Excluded Material(s) Explanation of Exclusion Pulping Liquors Pulping liquors (i.e., black liquor) that are reclaimed in a pulping liquor recovery furnace and then reused in the pulping process, unless it is accumulated speculatively as defined in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) section 261.1(c). See 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(6). Shredded Circuit Boards Shredded circuit boards being recycled provided that they are stored in containers sufficient to prevent a release to the environment prior to recovery and are free of mercury switches, mercury relays and nickel-cadmium batteries and lithium batteries. See 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(14). Condensates from Kraft Mill Steam Strippers Condensates derived from the overhead gases from kraft mill steam strippers that are used to comply with 40 CFR section 63.446(e). The exemption applies only to combustion at the mill generating the condensates. See 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(15). Mineral Processing Spent Materials Spent materials (as defined in 40 CFR section 261.1) (other than hazardous wastes listed in subpart D of this part) generated within the primary mineral processing industry from which minerals, acids, cyanide, water, or other values are recovered by mineral processing or by beneficiation, provided that the materials are stored in certain types of units and are not accumulated speculatively. See 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(17) for all conditions that apply for this exclusion. Petrochemical Recovered Oil Petrochemical recovered oil from an associated organic chemical manufacturing facility, where the oil is to be inserted into the petroleum refining process (SIC code 2911) along with normal petroleum refinery process streams, provided that the oil is hazardous only because it exhibits the characteristic of ignitability (as defined in 40 CFR section 261.21) and/or toxicity for benzene (40 CFR section 261.24, waste code D018) and the oil is not placed on the land, or speculatively accumulated before being recycled into the petroleum refining process. Definitions of “associated organic chemical manufacturing facility” and “petrochemical recovered oil” are provided at 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(18). Spent Caustic Solutions from Petroleum Refining Spent caustic solutions from petroleum refining liquid treating processes used as a feedstock to produce cresylic or naphthenic acid unless the material is placed on the land, or accumulated speculatively as defined in 40 CFR section 261.1(c). See 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(19). Hazardous Secondary Materials Used to Make Zinc Fertilizers and Zinc Fertilizers Made from Recycled Hazardous Secondary Materials Hazardous secondary materials that are recycled to make zinc fertilizers are excluded under 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(20) and the zinc fertilizers made from hazardous secondary materials are excluded under 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(21). See the respective paragraphs for all conditions that apply for these exclusions. Used Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) Used, intact or broken, cathode ray tubes (CRTs), and glass removed from CRTs, are excluded provided that the conditions listed at 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(22) are satisfied. Hazardous Secondary Materials Generated and Reclaimed Under the Control of the Generator Hazardous secondary materials that are generated and reclaimed under the control of the generator (defined as generated and reclaimed on-site, within the same company, or under certain tolling arrangements) are excluded under 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(23) , provided certain requirements are met. Hazardous Secondary Materials Transferred Off-site for Reclamation Hazardous secondary materials that are generated and sent off-site for reclamation are excluded under 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(24) provided certain conditions are met. Solvent-contaminated Wipes Solvent-contaminated wipes that are sent for cleaning and reuse are excluded under 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(26) provided certain conditions are met. Hazardous Secondary Materials Transferred Off-site for Remanufacturing
Hazardous secondary materials that are generated and sent-offsite for the purpose of remanufacturing are excluded under 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(27) provided certain conditions are met.
- Recycled Materials that are Solid Wastes but not Hazardous Wastes
While some wastes are considered solid wastes, some of those are not considered hazardous wastes if they are recycled in certain ways, including:
- Used in a Manner Constituting Disposal: Use constituting disposal is the direct placement of wastes or products containing wastes (e.g., asphalt with petroleum-refining wastes as an ingredient) on the land. Materials used in a manner constituting disposal are regulated under 40 CFR part 266 subpart C.
- Burned for Energy Recovery, Used to Produce a Fuel, or Contained in Fuels: Burning hazardous waste for fuel (e.g., burning for energy recovery) and using wastes to produce fuels are regulated activities. Hazardous waste burned in boilers and industrial furnaces are regulated under 40 CFR page 266 subpart H. However, commercial products intended to be burned as fuels are not considered solid wastes. For example, off-specification jet fuel (e.g., a fuel with minor chemical impurities) is not a solid waste when it is burned for energy recovery because it is itself a fuel.
- Accumulated Speculatively: In order to encourage recycling of wastes as well as ensure that materials are actually recycled, and not simply stored to avoid regulation, EPA established a provision to encourage facilities to recycle sufficient amounts in a timely manner. This provision designates as solid wastes those materials that are accumulated speculatively. A material is accumulated speculatively (e.g., stored in lieu of expeditious recycling) if it has no viable market or if the person accumulating the material cannot demonstrate that at least 75 percent of the material is recycled in a calendar year, commencing on January 1 per 40 CFR section 261.1(c)(8).
- Dioxin-Containing Wastes: Dioxin-containing wastes are considered inherently waste-like because they pose significant threats to human health and the environment if released or mismanaged. As a result, RCRA does not exempt such wastes from the definition of solid waste even if they are recycled through direct use or reuse without prior reclamation. This is to ensure that such wastes are subject to the most protective regulatory controls.
The following materials, when recycled in certain ways, are excluded from the definition of hazardous waste and are therefore not subject to RCRA hazardous waste regulation:
Material(s) Explanation of Exclusion Agricultural Waste Solid wastes generated by the growing and harvesting of agricultural crops or the raising of animals, including animal manures, and which are returned to the soils as fertilizers are not regulated as RCRA hazardous wastes. See 40 CFR section 261.4(b)(2). Spent Chlorofluorocarbon Refrigerants Used chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants from totally enclosed heat transfer equipment, including mobile air conditioning systems, mobile refrigeration, and commercial and industrial air conditioning and refrigeration systems that use chlorofluorocarbons as the heat transfer fluid in a refrigeration cycle, are not hazardous wastes provided that the refrigerant is reclaimed for further use. See 40 CFR section 261.4(b)(12). Used Oil Filters Non-terne plated used oil filters that are not mixed with listed hazardous wastes are not hazardous wastes if these oil filters have been gravity hot-drained using one of the methods listed at 40 CFR section 261.4(b)(13). Used Oil Distillation Bottoms Used oil re-refining distillation bottoms that are used as feedstock to manufacture asphalt products are not hazardous wastes. See 40 CFR section 261.4(b)(14).
- Hazardous Wastes that are not Subject to Hazardous Waste Regulation when Recycled
Even if the material is listed as a hazardous waste or meets the characteristics of a hazardous waste, there are exemptions from full hazardous waste regulation when these hazardous wastes are recycled.
Material(s) Explanation of Exemption Industrial Ethyl Alcohol Industrial ethyl alcohol that is reclaimed is not subject to RCRA hazardous waste regulation when recycled, provided that the conditions at 40 CFR section 261.6(a)(3)(i), if applicable, are satisfied. Scrap Metal Scrap metal that is not excluded under 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(13) is not subject to RCRA hazardous waste regulation when recycled. See 40 CFR section 261.6(a)(3)(ii). Waste-Derived Fuels from Refining Processes Fuels produced from the refining of oil-bearing hazardous waste along with normal process streams at a petroleum refining facility are not subject to RCRA hazardous waste regulation when recycled if such wastes result from normal petroleum refining, production, and transportation practices (this exemption does not apply to fuels produced from oil recovered from oil-bearing hazardous waste, where such recovered oil is already excluded under 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(12)). This would typically mean insertion prior to distillation. See 40 CFR section 261.6(a)(3)(iii). Unrefined Waste-Derived Fuels and Oils from Petroleum Refineries Hazardous waste fuel produced at a petroleum refinery from oil-bearing hazardous wastes that are introduced into the refining process after the distillation step, or that are reintroduced in a process that does not include distillation, are exempt if the resulting fuel meets the specifications under the federal recycled used oil standards in 40 CFR section 279.11. Oil that is recovered from hazardous waste at a petroleum refinery and burned as a fuel is also exempt provided it meets the used oil specifications. See 40 CFR section 261.6(a)(3)(iv).
Several types of materials are subject to alternative management standards for collection and/or recycling. They are described in detail below
- Universal Waste
The universal waste program promotes the collection and recycling of certain widely generated hazardous wastes. At present, the universal waste regulations include batteries, pesticides, lamps (e.g., fluorescent bulbs), and mercury-containing equipment (e.g., thermostats). The universal waste rule is designed to reduce hazardous waste in the municipal solid waste stream by making it easier for universal waste handlers to collect these items and send them for recycling or proper disposal. In addition, the regulations also ensure that the wastes subject to this system will go to appropriate treatment or recycling facilities pursuant to the full hazardous waste regulatory controls (see 40 CFR part 273).
- Used Oil
Used oil includes petroleum-based or synthetic oil that has been used. Because used oil has certain unique properties that make it distinct from most hazardous waste streams and is an easily recyclable material, EPA developed special recycling regulations for used oil that are completely separate from hazardous waste recycling standards (see 40 CFR part 279).
- Recyclable Materials Used in a Manner Constituting Disposal
- be made for the general public’s use;
- have undergone a chemical reaction so as to be inseparable by physical means; and
- meet applicable land disposal restrictions (LDR) treatment standards (see 40 CFR part 266 subpart C).
Once these waste-derived products meet these standards, they are no longer restricted from placement on the land. Materials that do not meet these criteria remain regulated. There are also special standards for hazardous wastes used to make zinc micronutrient fertilizers.
- Materials Utilized for Precious Metal Recovery
Precious metals reclamation is the recycling and recovery of precious metals (i.e., gold, silver, platinum, palladium, iridium, osmium, rhodium, and ruthenium) from hazardous waste. Because these materials will be handled protectively as valuable commodities with significant economic value, generators, transporters, and storers of such recyclable materials are subject to reduced requirements (see 40 CFR part 266 subpart F).
- Spent Lead-Acid Batteries Being Reclaimed
Persons who generate, transport, regenerate, collect, and store spent lead-acid batteries prior to reclamation, but do not perform the actual reclamation, are not subject to hazardous waste regulation. However, owners and operators of facilities that store spent batteries before reclamation, other than spent batteries that are regenerated (processed to remove contaminants and restore the product to a useable condition), are subject to regulation in a manner similar to hazardous waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) (see 40 CFR part 266 subpart G).
Note: Lead-acid batteries may also be managed as a Universal Waste.
- Hazardous Waste Burned in Boilers and Industrial Furnaces
The process of recycling hazardous waste by burning it for energy recovery may pose significant air emission hazards. Therefore, EPA established specific operating standards for units burning hazardous wastes for energy recovery (40 CFR part 266 subpart H). These units are known as boilers or industrial furnaces (BIFs).
All other recycled hazardous wastes are subject to full hazardous waste regulation. This means that handlers of these recyclable materials (i.e., persons who generate, transport, or store prior to recycling) are subject to the same regulations as handlers who are managing hazardous wastes prior to disposal.
The requirements for facilities that store and/or recycle hazardous wastes are outlined in 40 CFR section 261.6(b)-(c). Additional information on requirements for persons who generate, transport, or store prior to recycling is provided on the following websites:
- Hazardous Waste Recycling Web Page
- Chapter Two of the RCRA Orientation Manual: Hazardous Waste Recycling and Universal Wastes
- Training Module: Definition of Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste Recycling.
- Frequent Questions on Hazardous Waste Recycling
- Safe Hazardous Waste Recycling Fact Sheet
- EPA’s Guide for Recycling Industrial Hazardous Waste
- Presentation on Definition of Solid Waste Final Rule and Recycling
- Regulatory Status of Automotive Airbag Inflators and Fully Assembled Airbag Modules