October 14, 2016

Regulatory Status of “Day” Containers Holding Hazardous Waste

We often get questions about the regulatory status of a small “day” container holding hazardous waste or a container that is marked “empty at the end of each shift.” These small containers are typically emptied into a larger-capacity satellite accumulation container once per shift or per day. Do the RCRA regulations allow for such “day” containers?

Once a hazardous waste is generated, it must be managed in one of four types of units; 1) satellite accumulation units, 2) 90/180/270-day accumulation units, 3) permitted units, or 4) RCRA-exempt units (e.g., elementary neutralization units, wastewater treatment units, totally enclosed treatment facilities, and onsite recycling units). The only one of the above that fits for the “day” container described above is a satellite accumulation unit. EPA has addressed this situation in guidance as noted below.

Hypothetical example: In a work area, an operator performs a test using virgin solvent to extract a product. When the test is complete, contaminated solvent is drained into a 5-gallon safety can. At the end of his/her shift, the operator transfers the spent solvent from the can into a 55-gallon drum—the drum is managed as a satellite accumulation container. Is this allowed? Are both the can and the drum satellite units?

EPA’s perspective: “[I]t would be permissible if spent solvent was generated at the bench and then consolidated into a 55-gallon container at the end of a shift within the same SAA [satellite accumulation area], so long as the waste remained ‘at or near’ the point of generation and under the control of the operator.” [RO 14826] The “within the same SAA” language implies that the small container and 55-gallon drum are both satellite containers located within the same SAA. Previous EPA guidance suggested the same regulatory status of both containers: “[A] single SAA may have multiple points of generation. Movement or consolidation of hazardous waste within an SAA is permissible, as long as it remains ‘at or near’ the ‘point of generation’ and ‘under the control of the operator of the process generating the waste.’” [RO 14703]

Keep in mind that since both the small “day” can and the larger container are satellite units located within the same SAA, the 55-gallon volume limit applies to the total amount of waste in both containers.


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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.