By Mike Rozembajgier, VP, Stericycle
Hazardous waste management for retailers and retail pharmacies has entered a critical new phase that may change the rules governing what is considered waste and how to properly dispose of it.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reviewing how retailers currently address the risks and challenges associated with this segment of their business under the recently issued “Notice of Data Availability” (NODA) for hazardous waste management in the retail sector.
The NODA is a document that furthers the EPA’s findings of the past several years and asks for further input from affected parties. It has been issued by the EPA to better understand how retailers operate hazardous waste programs with the goals of potentially revising areas of ambiguous regulation and providing greater structure for these initiatives.
Major retailers such as big-box stores and nationwide pharmacy chains, as well as midsize retailers like regional grocery chains may experience new complexities in hazardous waste management as a result of the review.
History of retail hazardous waste management
Regulation of hazardous waste for retailers falls under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which also governs waste removal for industries such as pharmaceutical manufacturing sites and industrial plants.
For decades, retail has struggled to meet the requirements of hazardous waste management under RCRA because of the unique issues of hazardous waste generation not faced by other industries.
For instance, retailers sell tens of thousands of types of products and may have hundreds or thousands of store locations across the U.S., whereas a manufacturing plant may have only a few types of hazardous waste concentrated in one or several primary locations.
Products sold by retailers that are considered by state and federal regulating agencies to be hazardous include nail polish, hair spray, pest control, mouthwash, household cleaners, and light bulbs, among many others.
In 2008, the EPA began its effort to review the application of RCRA hazardous waste regulations to the retail sector, commencing a two-year period of meetings, conference calls and site visits by EPA officials to retail locations to get a better grasp on retailers’ challenges with managing hazardous waste.
The agency met at store locations with representatives of Lowe’s, Proctor & Gamble, and Walmart, and also held meetings with industry groups such as the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) and the National Retail Federation.
Then, in 2011, President Obama ordered all federal agencies to develop plans to review existing significant regulations to determine whether any should be modified, streamlined, expanded or repealed to make regulatory oversight more efficient.
The EPA named as a priority its effort to analyze information on hazardous waste in the retail sector. The NODA is the next major step in the effort to better understand concerns from all stakeholders about RCRA’s applicability to the retail sector, the waste materials that may be affected, the full scope of issues facing retailers and their partners, and what options may exist for addressing those issues.
Opportunity for Retailers
More specifically, the NODA represents an opportunity for the retail industry to submit comments and contribute information to help mold future policy.
The EPA is soliciting input until April 15, 2014 from experts throughout retail as it pores over rules and regulations governing how hazardous waste generated at retail locations is currently categorized, stored, handled and disposed.
The agency also wants to hear from states, retail industry groups and hazardous waste professionals about management programs that have succeeded and why. Those programs seen as successful could be viewed as models for others in the industry.
The NODA's outcome will help determine whether laws and regulations on retail hazardous waste practices should be amended.
In particular, the EPA is seeking to gather more information from retailers on the following areas under the law:
• Managing hazardous waste pharmaceuticals
• Episodic (seasonal or periodic) generation
• Hazardous waste determination
• Reverse distribution
• Aerosol can management
These areas stem from some of the information already gathered by the EPA from retailers and retail industry groups such as the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). For instance, RILA has asked the EPA to provide clarification for retailers on hazardous waste rules around aerosol cans, personal care products and batteries.
To date, other retailers already have identified additional issues they claim are complicating factors in their hazardous waste management programs. These factors include: product recalls; customer returns; expiration dates; accidental product spills or breakage; seasonality/episodic generation; and consumer ‘midnight’ dumping at commercial locations.
For retailers and their partners, hazardous waste professionals or industry groups interested in submitting comments to the NODA, the EPA is seeking information in nine distinct categories:
1. Suggestions for improving the RCRA hazardous waste, policies, guidances and regulations for retail operations
2. Information on the retail universe and the hazardous waste generated
3. Information on episodic generation
4. Information on retail stores’ programs for handling hazardous waste
5. Information on hazardous waste training for employees
6. Information on aerosol cans
7. Information on transportation and reverse logistics
8. Information on reverse logistic centers
9. Information on sustainability efforts undertaken by retail facilities
Implementing a Hazardous Waste Program
As the EPA aims to tackle the interconnected issues that complicate and frustrate retailers and their partners in hazardous waste collection, recording and removal, having a program to manage the process is now more critical than previously.
For context, last year EPA enforcement actions affected 148 million pounds of hazardous waste. Fines for non-compliance ranged from tens of thousands to millions of dollars. In this complicated industry, it’s critical that retailers understand the implications of the NODA and embrace the chance to work with the EPA to shape future regulations.
The new regulatory and compliance changes expected once the NODA is formally reviewed can mean retailers could risk falling behind on the updated policy. Partnering with a comprehensive hazardous waste management program provider can help retailers comply with federal and state regulatory laws, as well as enhance corporate sustainability initiatives.
Mike Rozembajgier is VP at Stericycle where he has held multiple management positions within the organization. He currently oversees marketing and business development initiatives for the StrongPak service, a comprehensive solution to nationwide retail hazardous waste compliance. He can be reached at mrozembajgier@STERICYCLE.com.