March 18, 2024

Incinerator Backlog FAQs

In June 2021, EPA became aware that labor shortages, power outages, incinerator shutdowns, and increased waste generation contributed to a growing inventory of containerized hazardous waste that hazardous waste incinerators could not accept. This incinerator backlog meant generators were often at risk of exceeding their 90/180-day accumulation time limits and had to request extensions to manage the situation. As discussed in a previous article, EPA highlighted existing regulatory provisions generators could use to stay in compliance. [RO 14939]

Fast forward to 2024, and the incinerator backlog has persisted longer than expected. As the regulations referenced in the 2021 interpretation remain in place, generators can request an accumulation extension if they are approaching their 90/180-day limits. Generators may request multiple extensions but must comply with any additional requirements imposed to obtain the extension and applicable Part 262 hazardous waste generator provisions. Addressing these requirements, among other stakeholder queries, EPA published 21 frequently asked questions, of which selected answers are summarized below.

Hazardous Waste Generators

I received a 30-day extension, but still can’t find someone to pick up my hazardous waste. May I request a subsequent extension?

Federal regulations do not limit the number of extensions and each extension request must meet the criteria in the regulations. However, some states have more stringent interpretations and do not issue consecutive accumulation time limit extensions.

I’m a small quantity generator of hazardous waste. Do I have 180 days or 270 days to accumulate my hazardous waste?

SQGs may accumulate hazardous waste onsite for 180 days or fewer without a permit. However, if an SQG needs to transport their hazardous waste 200 miles or more for offsite treatment, storage, or disposal, they may accumulate their hazardous waste for up to 270 days per §262.16(c). The 270-day accumulation provisions are self-implementing, which means SQGs do not need to notify their state they are taking advantage of this flexibility. However, we recommend the SQG keep records that document their situation.

My incinerator doesn’t have the capacity for my waste, but my waste management company/broker says they’ll still take my hazardous waste. Is it safe to ship it without knowing where or when it will be incinerated?

It is more protective for generators to keep their hazardous waste onsite rather than on the road or at transfer facilities that have far fewer protections than a generator or permitted treatment, storage, and disposal facility (TSDF). Another option is for generators to send the hazardous waste to a RCRA-permitted storage facility for temporary storage instead.

I work at a healthcare facility and am concerned I will not be able to ship my hazardous waste pharmaceuticals offsite when I reach the one-year accumulation limit under 40 CFR Part 266, Subpart P. Can I request an extension to the one-year accumulation period?

The 40 CFR Part 266, Subpart P regulations do not include an extension to the one-year accumulation period for hazardous waste pharmaceuticals. Thus, it is important to begin planning pickups of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals well before the one-year accumulation limit. Another option for healthcare facilities to explore if they cannot secure an incinerator commitment is sending hazardous waste pharmaceuticals to a RCRA-permitted storage facility. Management options for very small quantity generator healthcare facilities were discussed in RO 14959.

States and EPA Regions

What information should states and EPA regions request as proof that a generator cannot ship their containerized hazardous waste offsite to a permitted incinerator or TSDF?

An example of proof may be letters to the generator from permitted hazardous waste incinerators stating they will not accept the generator’s hazardous waste due to the backlog for incinerating containerized hazardous waste.

Hazardous Waste Transporters

Can I request an extension to the 10-day time limit for transfer facilities?

No, there is no regulatory mechanism to request extensions at transfer facilities.

Hazardous Waste Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities

As a permitted storage facility, can I store containerized waste that I generate for longer than 90 days without a permit modification?

Yes, two options exist for TSDFs that are also generators. TSDFs may store the hazardous waste in a permitted storage area if their existing RCRA permit allows the storage of waste generated onsite. Specifically, TSDFs may be capable of storing backlogged containerized waste absent permit modifications if: 1) their RCRA permit allows storage of those types of containerized hazardous wastes and hazardous waste codes, and 2) their RCRA-permitted container storage capacity is not exceeded. Alternatively, like generators, TSDFs may contact their state hazardous waste agency to request a 30-day extension of their generator accumulation time limit for their generator central accumulation area.

If I need to increase my permitted container storage for a limited time, can I request a temporary authorization instead of a Class 2 or 3 modification?

Yes. TSDFs may request to implement changes to their allowable container storage practices pursuant to temporary authorization provisions in §270.42(e).

Other Options

One solution for generators unable to incinerate their hazardous waste is to reduce the volume of waste they generate in the first place. Waste minimization isn’t just a regulatory requirement (§262.27); it can help businesses cut costs. If waste minimization is not possible, alternative waste treatment and disposal methods, such as organics recovery or extraction, may be available. EPA also suggests working with waste vendors early in the waste management process to find solutions and avoid exceeding the accumulation time limits. Until waste incinerator capacities return to normal, generators and TSDFs must use the regulatory provisions outlined above to navigate the backlog while staying compliant.

 


©2024 McCoy and Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

McCoy and Associates has provided in-depth information to assist environmental professionals with complex compliance issues since 1982. Our seminars and publications are widely trusted by environmental professionals for their consistent quality, clarity, and comprehensiveness.

 

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.