Hazardous Waste Management — Types, Regulations, & How Different Businesses Can Handle It

Industries should keep records of waste generation and testing, report any unprecedented events, be prepared to handle emergencies with trained professionals, and have reliable hazardous waste storage options such as tanks and containers

In July 2020, the giant Boise-based agribusiness J.R. Simplot Company was fined $775,000 for violating the federal waste and community-protection laws at its phosphoric acid and fertilizer plant outside Rock Springs. According to the government, Simplot placed hazardous material in a waste pile of calcium sulfate byproducts known as a phosphogypsum stack system, which grew to cover 420 acres and was about 200 feet high.

Simplot had to pay injunctive relief and civil penalties to resolve this suit. This incident is one of many that reminds us just how important it is to properly clean up and dispose of hazardous waste, both for environmental and monetary reasons.

Hazardous waste disposal is a challenge for many businesses and industries. Almost every medium to large scale industry generates hazardous waste. From pharmaceutical waste in the medical industry to heavy metals and cyanide waste in the metal manufacturing industry, and acids, bases, radioactive waste or organic constituents in the chemical industry, the production of hazardous waste is inescapable.

Equally, the need for efficient hazardous waste management (HWM) and disposal is also paramount in order to minimize the risks to lives and the environment. This requirement is met by stringent government regulations and standards, such as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which was passed in 1976. All industries are required to comply with these regulations, and failure to do so results in hefty fines or even the seizure of the industry or plant.

Types of Hazardous Waste

Hazardous waste can be classified under four categories: corrosive, ignitable, reactive, and toxic.


  • These substances have the ability to wear away at certain material and can destroy them by doing so.
  • Corrosive wastes are bases (typically pH equal to or greater than 12.5) or acids (typically pH less than or equal to 2) that can melt or corrode metal containers, drums, tanks and barrels.


  • These are substances that can easily erupt into flames and have a tendency to produce harmful vapors.
  • Ignitable wastes have a flash point of less than 140 degrees Fahrenheit and are spontaneously combustible.
  • These also include oxidizers and compressed gases such as alcohol, gasoline and acetone.


  • Reactive waste is unstable at normal conditions and can create poisonous and explosive gases by undergoing violent reactions when combined with other chemicals.


  • Toxic waste has the ability to poison humans or animals if swallowed and contaminate the environment when absorbed.
  • These substances are extremely fatal and pose serious and long-term threats to human health as well as the environment.

Hazardous Waste Generators

Plants that produce corrosive, ignitable, reactive or toxic hazardous waste are called hazardous waste generators. According to the EPA, they are categorized as follows:

  • Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQGs)- generate 100 kilograms or less per month of hazardous waste or 1 kilogram or less per month of acutely hazardous waste.
  • Small Quantity Generators (SQGs)- generate between 100 kilograms to 1,000 kilograms of hazardous waste per month.
  • Large Quantity Generators (LQGs)- generate 1,000 kilograms per month or more of hazardous waste or more than 1 kilogram per month of acutely hazardous waste.

RCRA Hazardous Waste Regulations

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste regulations establish certain standards and guidelines for different classes of generators for proper identification, storage and handling, transportation and disposal of hazardous wastes. The following are some basic EPA requirements and regulations:

Allowable quantity of hazardous waste generation:

  • VSQGs: ≤100 kg/month, and ≤1 kg/month of acute hazardous waste, and ≤100 kg/month of acute spill residue or soil
  • SQGs: >100 and <1,000 kg/month
  • LQGs: ≥1,000 kg/month, or >1 kg/month of acute hazardous waste, or >100 kg/month of acute spill residue or soil

While a unique EPA identification number is not mandatory for VSQGs, it is a requirement for SQGs and LQGs.

Amount of hazardous waste that can be accumulated on site without a permit:

  • VSQGs: ≤1,000 kg of hazardous waste or ≤100 kg of acute spill residue or soil
  • SQGs: ≤6,000 kg of hazardous waste
  • LQGs: No limit

Maximum allowable accumulation time:

  • VSQGs: No limit
  • SQGs: ≤180 days or ≤270 days if transporting >200 miles
  • LQGs: ≤90 days

Technical standards and requirements:

  • VSQGs: None
  • SQGs: Basic requirements with standards for containers, tanks, drip pads or containment buildings
  • LQGs: Full compliance for management of containers, tanks, drip pads or containment buildings.
  • SQGs and LQGs must have trained personnel and contingency procedures for emergencies.
  • LQGs must control air emissions from tanks and containers apart from solid hazardous wastes.

How Can Different Industries Handle Hazardous Waste Management?

Different industries produce different kinds of waste. Depending on whether the waste is hazardous or non-hazardous, the kind of transportation and disposal systems and cleanup procedures vary. Businesses should be able to assess what kind of measures they need to take for industry-specific hazardous waste.

Industrial Services

  • Businesses specializing in industrial services need to use strict disposal systems and cleanup measures as mandated by governmental regulations.
  • These industries should have a reliable hazardous waste disposal company to effectively handle unprecedented spills and leakages with the help of emergency spill cleanup and containment berms.
  • The waste disposal company should also be able to perform operations such as tank and pit cleaning, landfill leachate treatment, waste disposal and many other industrial waste services efficiently.


  • The utility industry typically generates nuclear and radioactive waste, along with mercury processing. These hazardous substances can be extremely dangerous and need to be handled with great care by waste management companies under EPA and OSHA regulations and guidelines.
  • For the utility business, a hazardous waste disposal company should have the right technology and equipment to efficiently process any size container or tank, as well as transport, prepare and dispose of these hazardous wastes.


  • Laboratories generate an abundance of hazardous solvents and reagents that need to be properly disposed of to prevent the risk of environmental contamination.
  • Hazardous substances from laboratories are disposed of in the form of lab packs. During this process, waste management professionals are required to abide by certain federal standards and regulations.


  • Accidental oil and chemical spills require a waste management company that can quickly, safely and thoroughly clean up the hazardous wastes while minimizing the effect on the water bodies and ecosystems.


  • The retail industry including businesses such as electronics, cannabis, tobacco, e-liquid, cosmetics, pesticides and firework stores generates hazardous wastes. These wastes cannot be disposed of in the local landfill and need professional hazardous waste disposal resources.
  • Retail stores also have expired products that are considered hazardous and need to be properly disposed of in order to prevent them from being sold in the market.


Hazardous waste is an environmental emergency and can cause complications to industries and businesses legally. To ensure the safety of lives and the environment, governments and agencies such as the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) and the EPA have set strict guidelines, standards and regulations to efficiently identify, manage, transport and recycle/dispose hazardous waste.

Industries should keep records of waste generation and testing, report any unprecedented events, be prepared to handle emergencies with trained professionals, and have reliable hazardous waste storage options such as tanks and containers.

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