On July 31, EPA issued final rules that clarify how companies handle disposable and reusable solvent-contaminated industrial wipes. This change identifies requirements for handling solvent contaminated wipes in order to avoid hazardous waste rules, which would otherwise apply. While significantly easier than the hazardous waste requirements, the rules still impose a high level of management in handling industrial wipes.

According to David L. Rieser, special counsel for The National Law Review, the wipes issue arises because most facilities use paper or cloth towels to clean. Yet if the facility uses the wipes to apply cleaning solutions that can be characterized as hazardous waste when disposed (which accounts for many industrial solvents and other commercial products), the wipes themselves become hazardous wastes. Industry and EPA have recognized this problem for many years but EPA originally deferred this to state regulators, leading to a patchwork of requirements. EPA finally issued proposed rules in 2002 and these final rules generally mirror the original proposal.

The rules only apply to wipes contaminated with solvents that would be characterized as hazardous wastes if disposed. These include certain specific listed solvents, as well as solvents that meet EPA’s test for hazardous characteristics such as ignitability, corrosivity or toxicity.  Facilities can avoid handling solvent-contaminated industrial wipes as hazardous waste if they:
• Store wipes for a limited time in leak-proof, labeled containers with close-fitting but not locking covers
• Store wipes on site for only 180 days, beginning when the first wipe is placed in the container
• Ensure that free liquid is removed from the wipes before disposal or reuse
• Use an appropriate disposal facility, and
• Document that they followed these steps, showing compliance with accumulation time, efforts to ensure removal of free product and the facility to which the wipes were sent for reuse and disposal.

The rules separate solvent-contaminated wipes into two categories: reused and disposed. EPA exempts wipes sent for cleaning and reuse from the definition of “solid waste” (and as a result from being a hazardous waste) because they are not “disposed” and have commercial value that encourages reuse. EPA excludes wipes sent for disposal from the definition of hazardous waste, because they present no significant risk of allowing a release of the solvents they contain so long as they are managed and disposed according to the regulations. The only exceptions to the disposable wipes rule are wipes contaminated with trichloroethylene (TCE), which EPA deems too risky even if managed consistent with the requirements.

Click here to read TRSA's response to this new rule. For Rieser's full review on this topic, click here.