A business that uses any of these common materials probably creates (generates) hazardous waste:
- paints, thinners, solvents or cleaning fluids
- materials that burn or itch on contact with skin
- materials that dissolve metal, wood, paper or clothing
What is "hazardous waste"?
The owner of a business must first decide if something is a waste, and if so, whether it is hazardous. A material is "waste" if:
- The business doesn’t want it - and no one else can use it.
- It's old or outdated.
- It can no longer be used.
- It spilled.
In Washington, a waste is "hazardous" if it's listed (discarded products and sources), meets characteristics (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity) or criteria (environmental persistence or toxicity) described in the regulations.
Hazardous wastes require special handling
Hazardous wastes can't be put in the dumpster, poured down the drain or evaporated into the air. They can't be taken to the transfer station or municipal landfill. The amount of waste the business produces or stores determines "generator status" and which regulations apply.
All businesses must
- all hazardous wastes and how much is generated each month
- Assure proper disposal, treatment and/or recycling of their hazardous waste
- Prevent threats to human health or the environment
- Comply with regulations, no matter how little hazardous waste they generate
- Know which rules apply based on "generator status" which refers to whether your business is a Small, Medium, or Large Quantity Generator.
It’s easier for businesses that create smaller amounts of hazardous waste
A Small Quantity Generator, or SQG, is a business that
- Creates less than 220 pounds (about 27 gallons) per month of hazardous waste and
- Stores less than 2, 200 pounds (about five 55-gallon drums) of hazardous waste and
- Creates and stores less than 2.2 pounds (about a quart) of highly toxic or reactive waste per month
You must have less than 2.2 pounds of highly toxic or reactive chemicals like these to be a small quantity generator.
Laboratories, medical facilities, pest control operators and other businesses that use highly toxic or reactive chemicals may produce wastes with a monthly SQG limit of 2.2 pounds. Check the "P" list of discarded chemical products (external link) or use toxicity data. Call the business waste line (206-263-8899) for help.
Follow our suggestions for reducing, recycling, treating or properly disposing of hazardous waste. SQGs need less paperwork for managing hazardous waste and can access our program services, such as no-charge disposal.
Regulated generators (medium or large quantities)
Businesses that produce larger amounts of hazardous waste must comply with extensive regulations compared to SQGs. The requirements for regulated generators are spelled out in the Washington dangerous waste regulations (Chapter 173-303 WAC (external link)). These regulations address how hazardous waste must be stored, handled, transported and disposed. Contact the Department of Ecology (external link) for help at 206-649-7000.
Identifying Hazardous Waste
"Waste designation" is the process of deciding if a certain waste is hazardous and selecting the applicable dangerous waste codes. Designation often involves identifying the chemical ingredients or contaminants in the waste. It helps ensure that the waste is properly labeled and handled.
Washington's Department of Ecology has guidance for designating waste (external link) according to the dangerous waste regulations, WACs 173-303-070 through 173-303-100 (external link). Dangerous waste numbers are listed in WACs 173-303-090, 173-303-104, and 173-303-9903 - 9904 (external link). The dangerous waste numbers are codes that correspond to the hazardous properties in the waste. For example, D008 means the waste contains lead; WT02 means the waste is toxic; D002 means the waste is corrosive.
Before the products become waste, information about the hazardous chemicals they contain is listed on the Materials Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) or Safety Data Sheet (SDS in the Globally Harmonized System). Contact suppliers or the product manufacturer for MSDS or SDS copies or find more ideas at Ecology’s website Identify Waste by Knowledge and Research (external link).
A "waste profile" describes the chemical ingredients and the dangerous waste numbers assigned to the waste. Firms that transport, broker, reclaim or dispose of hazardous waste need a waste profile so that they can manage the waste safely and legally. Most private companies and solid waste landfills require a profile or other identification before accepting potentially hazardous wastes.
You may want to test your waste at an accredited laboratory (external link) to see if your waste is hazardous. For example, used oil is often field-tested to detect chlorinated solvents. Many wastes, such as aerosol cans, are typically designated as hazardous without testing. Most waste handlers will profile a waste and can arrange to have it tested, if necessary. Doing a little research ahead of time may save money on testing. Here are some tips:
- Explain how the waste was created.
- Find the chemical ingredients on container labels, MSDS, SDS or by contacting the manufacturer.
- List anything that was mixed with the material, like water or solvents.
- List any contaminants that were picked up in the process, like oil or metal shavings.
- Don't run tests for substances that couldn't possibly be there or for known substances.
- Don't run tests on old chemicals in their original container. The ingredients are on the label and MSDS or SDS.