4 The record articles

Drum Reconditioners: Are You Sending RCRA Empty Containers?

Posted: April 18th, 2023

Authors: Karen T. 

United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) is currently reviewing compliance with the definition of RCRA “empty”. U.S. EPA completed a damage case report to improve their understanding of how the drum reconditioner industry operates and to document incidents at these facilities that have negatively impacted human health and the environment. U.S. EPA estimates that 47.5% of the industry reported incidents resulting in damage to human health or the environment.  Reported incidents include fires, drum explosions, hazardous waste spills, improper storage of drums, employee injuries, air, water, or soil contamination, and various combinations of these incidents.

Under the Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA), hazardous waste generators are responsible for the waste they generate from the cradle (point of generation) to grave (final deposition). As a result, sending containers formerly used to store or handle hazardous materials that do not meet the definition of empty, and therefore, potentially containing hazardous waste, creates a significant liability for facilities.

What’s the Rule?

40 CFR 261.7(b) defines empty under the RCRA rules.

A container or an inner liner removed from a container that has held any hazardous waste, except a waste that is a compressed gas or that is identified as an acute hazardous waste listed is empty if:

  1. All wastes have been removed that can be removed using the practices commonly employed to remove materials from that type of container, e.g., pouring, pumping, and aspirating, and
  2. No more than 2.5 centimeters (one inch) of residue remain on the bottom of the container or inner liner, or
  3. No more than 3 percent by weight of the total capacity of the container remains in the container or inner liner if the container is less than or equal to 119 gallons in size; or no more than 0.3 percent by weight of the total capacity of the container remains in the container or inner liner if the container is greater than 119 gallons in size.

A container that has held a hazardous waste that is a compressed gas is empty when the pressure in the container approaches atmospheric.

A container or an inner liner removed from a container that has held an acute hazardous waste listed is empty if:

  1. The container or inner liner has been triple rinsed using a solvent capable of removing the commercial chemical product or manufacturing chemical intermediate. Note that rinsing of non-empty containers in certain states requires a permit.
  2. The container or inner liner has been cleaned by another method that has been shown in the scientific literature, or by tests conducted by the generator, to achieve equivalent removal; or
  3. In the case of a container, the inner liner that prevented contact of the commercial chemical product or manufacturing chemical intermediate with the container, has been removed.

Considerations for Generators

  • Have you documented the container is empty?
  • Are empty containers properly labeled and managed within one year of the date generated?
  • Do you have corrective actions for containers not emptied properly?
  • Do you train staff on RCRA empty rules? Does the staff know the difference between hazardous, acutely hazardous and compressed gases?
  • For acutely hazardous waste listed, do you have a procedure for handling the rinseate?
  • How are you disposing of the rinseate and residuals from your containers? Are you properly characterizing?
  • If your drum refurbisher is handling the cleaning of the acute hazardous waste container, are you sending the containers as hazardous waste? Is the facility permitted to handle the waste?
  • Have you checked with your state to determine if additional state rules apply to empty containers?
  • Do you audit your refurbisher to ensure that hazardous materials are handled properly?

Considerations for Refurbishing Operations

  • A determination must be made for residues removed from RCRA empty drums as to whether the residue is hazardous.
  • Rinseate (the residual mixture of waste and cleaning solvent) from an empty container is considered a hazardous waste and must be contained and disposed of in compliance with RCRA if the rinsing agent includes a solvent (or other chemical) that would be a listed hazardous waste when discarded.
  • Do you have procedures in place to inspect containers to ensure they are RCRA empty before transport?
  • Do you request documentation on what the containers held prior to discarding?
  • Do you have proper wastewater and air permits?
  • Do you have a sampling plan to characterize rinseate?
  • Can you effectively pretreat your wastewater before discharging to the local Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW)? Or under your National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit?
  • Do you have plans in place for incompatible materials?
  • Do you have a training program in place for staff to identify RCRA empty containers, incompatible hazardous materials and listed wastes?

Improper handling of hazardous or toxic materials, including wastes, can lead to safety incidents, health concerns, environmental impacts, and legacy liabilities. If you have questions or want to discuss compliance strategies, reach out to Karen Thompson at Kthompson@all4inc.com or one of our wastewater, waste or health & safety practitioners.

ALL4 is a nationally recognized consulting company shaping environmental responsibility and creating distinction for employees, clients, and partners. Let us help you achieve your environmental, health and safety goals.


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