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In the United States, hazardous wastes are subject to regulations mandated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Every month, we provide clear, in-depth guidance on a different aspect of the RCRA regulations. The information presented here is an excerpt from McCoy’s RCRA Unraveled, 2021 Edition.

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Lead-Acid Battery Exemption

Lead-acid batteries are the most widely used rechargeable batteries in the world. They are mainly used as starting, lighting, and ignition power batteries in automobiles, forklifts, and other vehicles. Such batteries are spent if they no longer perform effectively and cannot be recharged. [January 8, 2010; 75 FR 1239]

Used lead-acid batteries that can no longer be used for their intended purpose are considered spent materials. [RO 11101, 11822] Therefore, they are solid wastes whether they will be disposed [§261.2(b)(1)] or reclaimed. [Table 1 of §261.2(c)] (The exclusions for spent materials being reclaimed that were added/amended by EPA in its 2008, 2015, and 2018 DSW rules do not apply to spent lead-acid batteries.) Although not listed hazardous wastes, lead-acid batteries will typically exhibit the characteristics of corrosivity (D002) and toxicity for lead (D008). [RO 14147] Thus, they are hazardous wastes.

Assuming the spent lead-acid batteries are not from households and, therefore, are not covered under the household hazardous waste exclusion, these hazardous wastes can be managed in one of three ways under RCRA: 1) as hazardous waste under the full Subtitle C regulatory program, 2) as universal waste under the Part 273 management standards (good option), or 3) as hazardous waste exempt from most RCRA management requirements under Part 266, Subpart G (even better option). What follows is a discussion of the last (and possibly the best) option: managing these materials under Part 266, Subpart G.

The Part 266, Subpart G exemption

As noted above, spent lead-acid batteries are hazardous waste at the point they are generated. [RO 11117] The hazardous waste provisions that apply to the management of spent lead-acid batteries under Part 266, Subpart G depend on the means of reclaiming the batteries.

Per the table in §266.80, spent lead-acid batteries reclaimed under Part 266, Subpart G are either regenerated (such as by recharging and/or replacing electrolyte) or otherwise reclaimed to recover metal values, ammonium sulfate, and plastic (such as by breaking, cracking, and/or smelting). Table 1 summarizes the RCRA Subtitle C regulatory requirements applicable to persons who manage spent lead-acid batteries that ultimately will be reclaimed using one of these two means. EPA adopted this dual regulatory approach in order to provide a balance between protecting human health and the environment and encouraging recycling of these batteries. [RO 12688, 12856]

Table 1

Battery generators/collectors are exempt from most RCRA standards

As noted in Table 1, nearly everyone that manages these batteries (except for facilities that both store and reclaim them) are exempt from most RCRA requirements. Per §266.80(a), generators, transporters, and collectors of spent lead-acid batteries, and entities that store these batteries (but do not reclaim them), must make a hazardous waste determination. In addition, when these entities send batteries for reclamation (as opposed to regeneration), they must comply with the applicable provisions of Part 268—the land disposal restrictions. The LDR treatment standard for spent lead-acid batteries is RLEAD (recovery of lead in a secondary lead smelter). EPA has not issued official guidance on what LDR notification requirement applies when spent lead-acid batteries are sent offsite for reclamation. A conservative approach would be to send a one-time notification with the information specified in §268.7(a)(2) to each treatment or storage facility that will receive the batteries, since the batteries do not meet the appropriate LDR treatment standard at the point they are shipped offsite. Generators that send spent lead-acid batteries offsite for reclamation do not have to: 1) count these batteries when making a hazardous waste generator-category determination, 2) manifest them/use hazardous waste transporters (DOT requirements still apply), or 3) store them onsite per §§262.16–17 (e.g., no 90-day clock, no labeling, no inspection requirements). [RO 13746, 14147]

Do the speculative accumulation provisions in §261.1(c)(8) apply to spent lead-acid batteries before they are sent offsite for reclamation under Part 266, Subpart G?

No. The speculative accumulation provisions are not applicable to materials already defined as solid wastes, such as spent lead-acid batteries. [RO 11476]

A facility has some cracked, leaking lead-acid batteries. Can they be managed under the Part 266, Subpart G exemption for spent lead-acid batteries being recycled? Can they alternatively be managed under the universal waste regs?

No to both. According to RO 14147, the “current federal regulation is intended to exempt those who generate, transport, or collect intact spent lead-acid batteries from RCRA hazardous waste management requirements, including the requirement to manifest offsite shipments of the spent batteries. See 40 CFR §266.80.” If the batteries are damaged, EPA’s guidance specific to the universal waste program is as follows: “A handler of universal waste may only manage broken or damaged hazardous waste batteries as universal wastes if the breakage or damage does not constitute a breach in the cell casing…. Therefore, universal waste batteries are intended to be intact (i.e., where the casing of each individual battery cell is not breached).” [RO 14634]

Are leaks and discharges from lead-acid batteries also covered under the Part 266, Subpart G exemption?

No. “Materials generated from a leak or discharge become newly generated wastes and, as such, are subject to a hazardous waste determination.” [RO 14039]

Battery regeneration facilities are also exempt

Per §266.80(a), facilities that regenerate spent lead-acid batteries (such as by recharging and/or replacing electrolyte) under Part 266, Subpart G are also exempt from most RCRA requirements (see Table 1). EPA believes that the simple regeneration and subsequent resale of reconditioned batteries presents minimal environmental risk and is similar to the reclamation of commercial chemical products, which is not regulated under RCRA. Such regeneration can occur at any type of facility. [April 4, 1983; 48 FR 14496, RO 11167, 11934, 12449, 13709, 14039]

Battery reclamation facilities are not exempt

Although entities that generate, transport, and collect intact spent lead-acid batteries, and entities that store these batteries (but who do not reclaim them), are exempt from most hazardous waste management requirements, facilities that both store and reclaim them are not. [§266.80(b)] Facilities that both store and reclaim spent lead-acid batteries to recover metal values (such as by breaking, cracking, and/or smelting) under Part 266, Subpart G are subject to numerous TSD facility requirements, as noted in Table 1. [RO 11383, 12688, 12856, 14147] Thus, such facilities are subject to most Subtitle C provisions, including RCRA permitting, contingency planning, and hazardous waste storage, manifesting, and closure standards.

However, because battery reclamation is considered hazardous waste recycling, facilities that reclaim the batteries, but do not store them first, are not subject to substantive RCRA standards but are subject only to the same minimal provisions as generators of these materials. [RO 11383, 12856]

A facility collects spent lead-acid batteries, drains the acid, and then manifests the acid offsite for reclamation. The battery shell, which still contains the lead plates, is sent to a facility that extracts the lead for smelting. Should these battery shells, when sent offsite, be managed as hazardous waste or as spent lead-acid batteries subject to Part 266, Subpart G?

EPA never really answered the question in this guidance. However, the agency did note that the act of draining the batteries is not considered part of the reclamation process. Therefore, the owner/operator would not be subject to requirements for facilities that both store and reclaim batteries in §266.80(b) (although the facility that smelts the batteries would be subject to these provisions). [RO 12836]

A company operates a number of battery cracking and smelting facilities. A battery storage facility is owned by the same company, but the storage facility is not co-located with any of its battery reclamation facilities. Is the storage facility subject to the §266.80(b) requirements?

No. Only the minimal provisions in §266.80(a) apply to facilities at which spent lead-acid batteries are stored but not reclaimed, regardless of what battery management activities the owner of the storage area may conduct at other locations. [RO 11947, 14039]

Importing/exporting spent lead-acid batteries

When EPA finalized revisions to the hazardous waste import and export regulations on November 28, 2016 [81 FR 85696], the agency significantly changed the import/export requirements for spent lead-acid batteries in §266.80(a). The table in that regulatory section addresses export of these batteries in Items (6) and (7) and import of these batteries in Items (8), (9), and (10). Generally speaking, entities that export batteries for reclamation in a foreign country must 1) make a hazardous waste determination, 2) have an EPA ID number, and 3) comply with the Part 262, Subpart H export requirements. Entities that import batteries for reclamation in the United States must 1) make a hazardous waste determination, 2) have an EPA ID number, 3) comply with the Part 262, Subpart H import requirements, and 4) comply with applicable LDR requirements in Part 268. Additionally, entities that store imported batteries before they are reclaimed are subject to the substantial regulations referenced in §266.80(b).


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Disclaimer

Considerable care has been exercised in preparing this document; however, McCoy and Associates, Inc. makes no representation, warranty, or guarantee in connection with the publication of this information. McCoy and Associates, Inc. expressly disclaims any liability or responsibility for loss or damage resulting from its use or for the violation of any federal, state, or municipal law or regulation with which this information may conflict. McCoy and Associates, Inc. does not undertake any duty to ensure the continued accuracy of this information.

This document addresses issues of a general nature related to the federal RCRA regulations. Persons evaluating specific circumstances dealing with the RCRA regulations should review state and local laws and regulations, which may be more stringent than federal requirements. In addition, the assistance of a qualified professional should be enlisted to address any site-specific circumstances.