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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, 2023 Edition.

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Household Hazardous Waste Exclusion

Under §261.4(b)(1), the 1.6 million tons of household hazardous waste generated annually in the United States is excluded from the RCRA Subtitle C regulations. The term household waste refers to any garbage, trash, and other waste from single and multiple residences and other residential units such as hotels and motels, bunkhouses, ranger stations, crew quarters, campgrounds, picnic grounds, and day-use recreation areas. For household hazardous waste to be excluded, it must meet two criteria: 1) the waste has to be generated by individuals on the premises of a temporary or permanent residence, and 2) the waste must be composed primarily of materials found in the waste generated by consumers in their homes. [November 13, 1984; 49 FR 44978]

For example, wastes generated from military base housing are excluded. [RO 11958, 13225] Wastes generated at hotels from hotel guests, room cleaning, or pesticide spraying in rooms are also excluded under the household exclusion. However, dry cleaning wastes from the hotel are not excluded because the spent solvents from such operations are not similar to wastes typically produced by consumers in their homes. [RO 12624, 13736] Household-type wastes generated at commercial facilities and office buildings are also not excluded because they do not meet the first criterion above. [RO 11347] Similarly, restaurants are not temporary or permanent residences for individuals, and wastes generated from restaurants will not qualify for the household waste exclusion. [RO 13744] EPA noted wastes generated from retail stores and shopping centers are also not excluded. [49 FR 44978, RO 11958] Wastes generated by schools (e.g., lab waste, cleaning supplies, pharmaceuticals) are not covered by the exclusion. However, hazardous waste pharmaceuticals generated in dormitories would be excluded because they are residences. [February 22, 2019; 84 FR 5849]

Hospitals, nursing homes, and day care centers are not considered generators of household hazardous wastes. Although these facilities are residential in some ways, they generate amounts and types of wastes that are significantly different from wastes generated by consumers in their homes. [March 24, 1989; 54 FR 12339, RO 11958] EPA provided additional guidance that some types of healthcare facilities could be considered households, but others would not. The agency made a distinction between a long-term care facility (LTCF), which is not considered a household and does not qualify for the exclusion, and other care facilities. “LTCF means a licensed entity that provides assistance with activities of daily living, including managing and administering pharmaceuticals to one or more individuals at the facility. This definition includes, but is not limited to, hospice facilities, nursing facilities, skilled nursing facilities, and the nursing and skilled nursing care portions of continuing care retirement communities. Not included within the scope of this definition are group homes, independent living communities, assisted living facilities, and the independent and assisted living portions of continuing care retirement communities. The types of healthcare facilities listed at the end of this definition that are not considered to be LTCFs are not subject to subpart P requirements and hazardous waste pharmaceuticals generated there continue to be excluded from RCRA as household hazardous wastes.” [84 FR 5849] Assisted living facilities, independent living facilities, and group homes are eligible for the household hazardous waste exclusion, even if they are part of a continuing care retirement community. Hazardous wastes generated at intermediate care facilities for individuals with intellectual disabilities are considered household hazardous waste. [RO 14917] Also, hazardous waste pharmaceuticals generated by in-home medical care (e.g., hospice care) are eligible for the exclusion, but those generated at hospice facilities are not. The agency noted many of these small care facilities are VSQGs and thus exempt from most RCRA regulation regardless of whether the household hazardous waste exclusion applies. [84 FR 5853–4]

Although commercial facilities, office buildings, restaurants, retail stores, shopping centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and day care centers do not produce wastes that qualify for the household hazardous waste exclusion, hazardous wastes generated at these facilities may be exempt from most RCRA Subtitle C regulation as wastes generated by VSQGs. Hazardous wastes generated by VSQGs are subject only to the limited regulations in §262.14.

Things get complicated when household products are taken to commercial facilities, office buildings, retail stores, etc. where they become wastes. In RO 13480, EPA noted that nickel-cadmium batteries removed from products/appliances by consumers in their homes are within the exclusion and are excluded from the hazardous waste regulations when disposed of, while such batteries removed by service personnel from products/appliances that have been taken to service centers by consumers are not within the exclusion. The agency stated in RO 14084 “if the waste comes from a household, it would not be subject to the hazardous waste regulations even if it were later discarded on the premises of a business.” RO 11958 indicates retailers may take advantage of the household waste exclusion for the management of products (that are known to be hazardous waste) returned from households. In conclusion, if the household material was a product when brought to the commercial facility, office building, retail store, etc. (such as the household appliance being repaired at a service center), then the household waste exclusion is not applicable to wastes (such as the batteries) generated from this material by the commercial facility. However, if the household material was a waste when brought to the commercial facility, office building, retail store, etc., the household hazardous waste exclusion has already kicked in and continues to apply to that material when disposed of at the commercial facility.

Section 261.4(b)(1) excludes household wastes from hazardous waste management requirements even when accumulated in quantities that would otherwise trigger regulation under RCRA Subtitle C. [RO 11958, 12547]

EPA has developed a website discussing household hazardous waste management options and collections facilities at

Types of waste excluded

The exclusion applies to all household hazardous wastes, including electronics, appliances, medicinal drugs and ointments, waste oils, antifreeze, pesticides and other lawn and garden products, paint and paint thinner, batteries (including lead-acid batteries), fluorescent lamps, thermostats, spent filters from filtering water, aerosol cans, and cleaning fluids/solvents. [May 19, 1980; 45 FR 33099, June 12, 2002; 67 FR 40511, RO 11508, 11653, 11678, 11693, 11756, 11780, 11897, 12688, 13189, 13432, 13521, 14647] Contaminated media and debris generated from residential heating oil tanks [February 12, 1993; 58 FR 8505, RO 14701] and leaks from those tanks [RO 11563] are also excluded.

Unused flameless ration heaters (FRHs) disposed of by individual soldiers in the field or at military installations are eligible for the household hazardous waste exclusion. This exclusion would also apply where FRHs are collected from a group of soldiers for disposal, as long the FRHs were initially issued to the soldiers for individual use in a permanent or temporary residential setting. [RO 14772, 14774]

Hazardous waste generated at a household by a person other than the homeowner (e.g., a contractor) is also excluded, provided that the waste is generated as part of daily living (e.g., routine residential maintenance). [RO 11897, 13358, 14673] Examples of such excluded waste include medical waste generated in private homes by a health care provider, even when the waste is removed from the home and transported to a physician’s place of business. [54 FR 12339, RO 13277]

Conversely, natural gas regulators at residences are installed, replaced, and collected by utilities and gas suppliers—not by consumers in the home in the course of daily living. Therefore, EPA determined natural gas regulators do not meet the two criteria of the household hazardous waste exclusion and, if they exhibit the toxicity characteristic for lead, they must be managed as hazardous waste. [RO 14115]

EPA originally determined the household hazardous waste exclusion did not apply to wastes such as debris produced during construction, renovation, or demolition of houses or other residences, because these wastes are not similar to those generated by a consumer in the home in the course of daily living. [49 FR 44978, RO 11897] However, the agency more recently clarified that the exclusion does apply to lead-based paint waste generated as a result of renovation, remodeling, or abatement actions by residents of households, including their contractors. Excluded materials would include doors, window frames, painted woodwork, paint chips, dust, and sludges from these activities. [October 23, 2001; 66 FR 53537, RO 14459, 14673]

EPA does not consider RCRA to apply to contaminated human remains resulting from a chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear event. Similarly, personal effects would likely be excluded from the hazardous waste regulations via the household hazardous waste exclusion. [RO 14811]

Exclusion may be lost if mixed with other wastes

If household hazardous waste is mixed with regulated hazardous wastes (i.e., hazardous waste generated by SQGs or LQGs), the regulatory status of the mixture is subject to the hazardous waste mixture rule. In general, such mixtures will continue to be hazardous and subject to regulation under RCRA Subtitle C. [45 FR 33099, RO 12547]

Mixtures of household hazardous waste and VSQG hazardous waste are subject to the VSQG waste management standards of §262.14. [§262.13(f)(1)(i), RO 11377, 12547] However, §262.13(f)(1)(ii) notes, if the quantity of the mixture exceeds the VSQG quantity limitations, then the mixture becomes subject to either SQG or LQG standards if the mixture exhibits a characteristic.

Management/treatment of household hazardous wastes

Per §261.4(b)(1), the collection, transportation, storage, treatment, disposal, and recovery or reuse of household hazardous wastes are not subject to Parts 262 through 270. “Because this exclusion attaches at the point of generation (i.e., the household) and continues to apply throughout the waste management cycle, household [wastes] collected in municipal recycling programs and subsequently managed in recycling programs continue to be excluded from the hazardous waste management regulations.” [RO 11780] The household waste exclusion applies from collection through final disposition, including treatment and resultant residues. Thus, for example, landfill gas condensate derived from a fill that contains household waste exclusively is not a hazardous waste. [RO 12362]

However, household wastes are subject to federal, state, and local requirements concerning management of solid waste, including applicable RCRA Subtitle D requirements. [45 FR 33099, RO 11314, 11377] For example, household hazardous waste can be disposed of in a municipal solid waste landfill or burned in a municipal solid waste combustor. [RO 14459] Although nonhazardous waste management is legal, EPA recommends household hazardous waste be managed in the following order: 1) reused or recycled as much as possible, 2) treated in a hazardous waste treatment facility, or 3) disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill. [RO 11377]

Recently published guidance documents are available in which EPA recommends the incineration of pharmaceuticals collected from households during take-back events, mail-back events, or other collection programs. [RO 14833, 14853, 14906] Sewering is highly discouraged and not an option for controlled substances subject to the DEA regulations. [RO 14905] The agency recommends these household pharmaceuticals be combusted in an incinerator or cement kiln permitted under RCRA and/or the Clean Air Act (CAA), or at the least, in a unit that meets EPA’s large or small municipal waste combustor standards. Such units would not only be protective of the environment, but they could also meet DEA’s goal of preventing diversion of controlled substances.

Household hazardous wastes burned in resource recovery facilities

Household waste is often burned in resource recovery facilities to recover energy (often called waste-to-energy facilities). The household hazardous waste exclusion explicitly exempts such facilities from hazardous waste management regulations as long as such facilities receive and burn only 1) household waste, and 2) nonhazardous waste from commercial or industrial sources. But what about the ash generated from these facilities?

EPA initially determined that since “household waste is excluded in all phases of its management, residues remaining after treatment (e.g., incineration, thermal treatment) are not subject to regulation as hazardous waste.” [45 FR 33099] This determination was challenged, however, and in a 1994 Supreme Court decision (City of Chicago vs. Environmental Defense Fund, 511 U.S. 328), the court found that ash generated at resource recovery facilities burning household wastes and nonhazardous commercial wastes is not exempt from the hazardous waste requirements of RCRA Subtitle C if it exhibits a hazardous waste characteristic.

Because the court did not determine the point at which regulation of the ash must begin, EPA issued an interpretation stating RCRA would first impose hazardous waste regulation when the ash leaves the “resource recovery facility,” defined as the combustion building (including connected air pollution control equipment). Consequently, the point at which a hazardous waste determination must be made is when ash exits the combustion building following the combustion and air pollution control processes. [February 3, 1995; 60 FR 6666, RO 11901]

Importing household hazardous wastes

Because imported waste is subject to the applicable domestic laws and regulations of the United States once it enters U.S. jurisdiction, imported household hazardous waste is excluded from the definition of hazardous waste in the same way as domestically generated household waste. U.S. importers may want to keep records of the foreign exporter and the origin of any imported household waste in case questions arise as to its regulatory status once it enters the United States. [RO 14308]


Topic: Hazardous Waste Lamps

©2023 McCoy and Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

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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.