October 16, 2018

Regulatory Status of Automotive Airbags

Facilities that assemble or provide parts for automobiles will likely need to manage unwanted airbags at some point. Undeployed airbags are frequently ignitable and/or reactive and, if solid waste, would need to be managed as D001 and/or D003 hazardous waste. There are circumstances, however, that allow airbags to be managed outside of RCRA. On July 19, EPA issued a memo clarifying how the RCRA hazardous waste regulations apply to different types of airbag modules and inflators. The table below summarizes the agency’s airbag-related regulatory interpretations and incorporates its previous airbag guidance in RO 11666 and RO 14893.

Type of airbag or inflator

RCRA status

Unused airbag modules and inflators that fail a QA/QC program and are never installed in vehicles

Off-spec commercial chemical products

  • Not solid waste when legitimately reclaimed [§261.2(c)(3)]
  • Hazardous waste if discarded

Undeployed, non-defective airbag modules and inflators removed from one vehicle and installed in another

Products continuing to be used for their intended purpose

  • Reuse must be legitimate
  • Recalled Takata and other defective airbags cannot be reused

Undeployed airbag modules and inflators (Takata and non-Takata) remaining in vehicles when recycled as scrap metal

Part of the vehicle

  • Not subject to a separate hazardous waste determination (unless removed from the vehicle)
  • Exempt scrap metal when legitimately recycled [§261.6(a)(3)(ii)]
  • Deploying installed airbags in vehicles being scrapped is not subject to RCRA permitting requirements

Undeployed, non-defective airbag modules (non-Takata) removed from vehicles for electronic deployment prior to recovery of metal

Exempt scrap metal when legitimately recycled [§261.6(a)(3)(ii)]

  • Exemption applies from point modules are removed from vehicles
  • Deploying removed airbag modules prior to scrap metal recycling is not subject to RCRA permitting requirements
  • Recalled Takata and other defective airbag modules cannot be managed as scrap metal when removed because they cannot be safely recycled via electronic deployment

Undeployed, airbag inflators removed from vehicles and not reused in other vehicles

Spent material

  • Undeployed, airbag inflators that are removed from vehicles are “used” and therefore spent material (if they are not reused in other vehicles)
  • Spent material designation applies to recalled Takata inflators (since they cannot be reused) and other inflators that will not be reused
  • Solid waste when reclaimed [§261.2(c)(3)] or discarded
  • Not exempt scrap metal because inflators, when not part of a fully assembled module, cannot be safely recycled
  • If scavenged from vehicles in automobile scrap yards, the point of generation for the purpose of a hazardous waste determination is when the airbag inflator is removed

Adapted from "Regulatory Status of Automotive Airbag Inflators and Fully Assembled Airbag Modules"; July 19, 2018.


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