December 16, 2019

Aerosol Cans Added to Universal Waste Program

On December 9, 2019, EPA published a final rule adding hazardous waste aerosol cans to the universal waste program in Part 273. [84 FR 67202] Aerosol cans are generated by nearly every business in every industry, and this rule is aimed at improving recycling and reducing the cost and burden of aerosol can management.

Aerosol cans frequently contain flammable propellants such as propane or butane that can cause them to exhibit the ignitability characteristic. An aerosol can may also contain materials that exhibit hazardous characteristics. Similarly, a discarded aerosol can may also be a P/U-listed hazardous waste if it contains a commercial chemical product found at §261.33(e) or (f).

EPA believes aerosol cans meet the eight evaluation factors at §273.81 for inclusion in the universal waste program. One of the primary factors considered is that five state universal waste programs already include these aerosol cans (California, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, and Utah). Waste management officials in those states indicate that their programs are operating well and achieving their objective of facilitating safe management and recycling of hazardous waste aerosol cans.

Universal waste aerosol can management standards

An aerosol can is defined in §273.9 as “a non-refillable receptacle containing a gas compressed, liquefied or dissolved under pressure, the sole purpose of which is to expel a liquid, paste, or powder and fitted with a self-closing release device allowing the contents to be ejected by the gas.” This is consistent with the Department of Transportation’s definition of an “aerosol” at 49 CFR 171.8. This definition excludes compressed gas cylinders.

New §273.6 excludes aerosol cans from the universal waste program that 1) are not yet waste, 2) are not hazardous waste, or 3) meet the standard for empty containers under §261.7. According to EPA, even though empty aerosol cans do not have to be managed as universal waste, they may be if the handler prefers to do so. [84 FR 67209–10] Likewise, nonhazardous aerosol cans may be managed as universal waste, although they are not required to be managed as such.

In general, the requirements for universal waste aerosol cans are the same as those that are in effect for other universal wastes: handlers may accumulate waste aerosol cans onsite for up to one year and do not have to use a manifest or LDR form for offsite shipments. Universal waste aerosol cans, or the container in which the cans are accumulated, must be marked or labeled with any of the following: “Universal Waste—Aerosol Can(s),” “Waste Aerosol Can(s),” or “Used Aerosol Can(s).”

The final rule adds management standards for small and large quantity handlers of universal waste aerosol cans in §§273.13 and 273.33, respectively. Universal waste handlers must manage universal waste aerosol cans in a way that prevents a release of universal waste or any component of universal waste to the environment. Universal waste aerosol cans must be accumulated in a container that is structurally sound, compatible with the contents of the aerosol cans, and lacks evidence of leakage, spillage, or damage that could cause leakage. Containers of universal waste aerosol cans must be protected from heat sources; in the preamble to the final rule, EPA noted that this provision includes, but is not limited to, the following sources of heat: open flames; lighting; smoking; cutting and welding; hot surfaces; frictional heat; and static, electrical, and mechanical sparks.

EPA is allowing leaking or damaged aerosol cans to be managed as universal waste. Such cans must be packaged in a separate closed container, overpacked with absorbents, or immediately punctured and drained.

Handlers may sort aerosol cans by type, consolidate intact cans into larger containers, and remove nozzles to reduce risk of accidental release.

Universal waste handlers who puncture universal waste aerosol cans must recycle the empty punctured cans and meet the following requirements while puncturing and draining the cans:

  1. Puncturing and draining must be conducted using a device specifically designed to safely puncture aerosol cans and contain residual contents and air emissions.
  2. Handlers must develop and follow a written procedure detailing how to safely puncture and drain aerosol cans. This procedure must address proper assembly, operation, and maintenance of the puncturing unit, segregation of incompatible wastes, and proper waste management practices to prevent fires and releases. Handlers must maintain a copy of the puncturing device manufacturer’s instructions onsite and must ensure employees operating the device are trained in the proper procedures.
  3. Puncturing must be performed in a manner designed to prevent fires and releases into the environment. This includes, but is not limited to, locating the equipment on a solid, flat surface in a well-ventilated area.
  4. Contents from the punctured aerosol can must be immediately transferred to a container or tank meeting the applicable requirements of §§262.14, 15, 16, or 17.
  5. Handlers must determine if the contents from the emptied aerosol cans are hazardous waste. Any hazardous waste generated from puncturing the cans is subject to all applicable RCRA regulations, and the handler is considered the generator of the hazardous waste.
  6. Handlers must have a written procedure for cleaning up spills or leaks of the contents of the aerosol cans. A spill cleanup kit must be provided, and spills or leaks must be cleaned up promptly.

In the preamble to the final rule, EPA noted that handlers may puncture and drain universal waste aerosol cans received from other, offsite handlers.

State adoption

The final rule is effective on February 7, 2020. Because this rule makes the federal RCRA program less stringent, states are not required to adopt it. Therefore, facilities in RCRA-authorized states are not allowed to manage waste aerosol cans as universal wastes until their state adopts the rule. (However, as noted above, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio, and Utah have already added aerosol cans to their state universal waste programs.) While individual households and very small quantity generators do not have to comply with the universal waste regulations, EPA encourages their participation in this program.


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