Environmental Compliance: (Re)-Open for Business, Meeting a New Retail Reality

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Environmental Compliance: (Re)-Open for Business, Meeting a New Retail Reality

By Kathleen McGuigan, RILA, and David Stanton, Clean Earth - 08/18/2020

Disruption and innovation are common themes for 2020 as the world struggles to fight against the COVID-19 virus. Social distancing, wearing face coverings, and curbside pick-up are part of the shopping zeitgeist now. These innovations to keep everyone safe are also spurring new practices for retailers when it comes to environmental compliance.

America’s retailers and their workers have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, with grocers, pharmacies and other retailers working hard to make sure families have access to food, medicine and other needed goods and services. From frontline store employees to shelf stockers and all those who work behind the scenes to support the industry’s efforts to meet the needs of U.S. consumers, we are grateful to all the retail workers doing the “quiet good” on behalf of us all.

Brick-and-mortar retailers, whether they have been open for the duration of the crisis, recently re-opened or are operating with limited hours and capacity restrictions, have demonstrated they are ready to meet the demands of a new retail reality. Accepting this challenge has required companies and their workers to be agile, in some cases reinventing how they do business including setting up curbside pick-up options, incorporating strict cleaning regimens within the consumer’s shopping journey, and implementing new safety protocols for both employees and shoppers. The retail environment as we once knew it has shifted dramatically and is continuing to evolve as the pandemic unfolds.

Over the course of the pandemic, retailers have remained staunchly committed to safety and compliance. There is a tremendous opportunity for companies to learn from the leading practices of other retailers and expertise of industry leaders. Together with Clean Earth and other strategic partners, the Retail Industry Leaders Association is working closely with retailers to ensure they have the information and tools needed to address the wide range of COVID-19-related risks to workers, customers, the environment and communities. Environmental compliance challenges facing retailers include these three important issues: use and disposal of disinfectant chemicals, managing new waste streams and stormwater compliance.

Use and Disposal of Disinfectant Chemicals

Consistent with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) guidance, retailers have implemented enhanced disinfecting and cleaning practices to protect employees and customers and help limit the spread of COVID-19. In setting up these enhanced disinfection procedures, U.S. retailers must use chemicals approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against SARS-CoV-2 and apply disinfectants in accordance with label instructions and exercise extra vigilance to ensure that decontamination practices meet all applicable state and federal environmental regulations.

Managing New Waste Streams

The wholesale increase in the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks and gloves, by retail employees and shoppers, has created new waste streams in stores and distribution facilities and heightened the need for even stricter disposal protocols to handle the high volume of newly generated contaminated waste. Clean-up rags and wipes and other debris with a non-hazardous disinfectant chemical can be treated as a solid waste.

If the waste disinfectant chemical is considered a hazardous waste per federal or state guidelines however, then the contaminated materials may need to be handled as hazardous waste. Ordinarily, waste from decontamination or cleaning of areas where a person with COVID-19 was present does not need to be treated as regulated medical waste, but retailers should confirm that states where they operate have not implemented more stringent requirements for this type of waste.

Stormwater Compliance

Disinfecting shopping carts outdoors also can create environmental compliance risks. The key to avoid triggering local municipality, stormwater utility or wastewater department stormwater regulations is to clean shopping carts without impacting stormwater with pollutants. Provided no wastewater is created, or it is captured and disposed of properly, disinfecting carts or other items can be done outdoors.

If pressure washing with a disinfectant, detergent or other cleaning agent, wastewater must be captured and properly disposed of. Retailers can consider pressure washing carts inside if possible, to prevent the wash water from discharging to the storm drain.

Resources and Tools

Below are some resources to assist retailers with environmental compliance and shopping safely, including:

The COVID-19 crisis has created a whole new range of challenges for retailers and service providers. We stand ready to assist federal, state and local policymakers and elected officials with the important task of maintaining retail operations in our Main Streets and storefronts. With safety and compliance always at the forefront, we can ensure that all families can shop safe.

David Stanton is president of Clean Earth, a division of Harsco, Camp Hill, Pa., and one of the largest specialty waste companies in the U.S., providing remediation, disposal, recycling and beneficial reuse solutions for contaminated soil, dredged material and hazardous and non-hazardous waste. 

Kathleen McGuigan is executive VP and deputy general counsel for Retail Industry Leaders Association, whose members include more than 200 retailers, product manufacturers, and service suppliers.

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