Audit, Compliance and Risk Blog

Environmental Compliance: Hazardous Waste "Program in Place"?

Posted by Jon Elliott on Wed, Aug 29, 2012

Jon ElliottIf your business generates "hazardous" wastes, then you must manage them in compliance with applicable federal and state environmental laws and regulations. But did you know that the same regulations also require you to take steps to avoid generating such wastes in the first place? Regulations refer to these as "waste minimization" efforts.

The extent of your required efforts depends on how much waste each facility generates:

  • a facility that generates 1,000 kilograms of hazardous waste each month (a "large quantity generator" or "LQG") must have a program in place to minimize hazardous waste generation.

  • a facility that generates more than 100 but less than 1,000 kg/mo must make a good faith effort to minimize hazardous waste generation.

These sound plausible ... but what does it mean? You may be surprised to know that no federal environmental law or regulation defines either of these required levels of effort, and that most states don’t either. However, California has longstanding requirements applicable to LQGs, which can help generators in the other 49 states think about their responsibilities as well.

Federal guidelines

The federal hazardous waste management law is generally called RCRA (the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act), and it’s assigned to EPA (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) to define terms and requirements. Most states have secured EPA delegation to administer RCRA requirements, although EPA administers them directly in some states.

EPA issued guidance in 1993 to identify basic elements of a waste minimization "program in place." These elements consist of the following:

  • support for an organization-wide effort by top management, including organization policies and goals, an identified waste minimization coordinator and employee training in waste minimization activities

  • use of a waste accounting system to track the types and amounts of wastes

  • periodic assessment of the waste minimization program

  • use of a cost allocation system that factors the true cost of waste generation into an evaluation of waste minimization benefits

  • use of information sources and innovative technology

  • implementation of waste minimization recommendations.

Remember that these are only guidelines. You don't have to implement every element, and you might pursue additional initiatives not on EPA's list. If your facility is a SQG (small quantity generator), any of these might add up to "best efforts" that meet your lesser responsibilities.

California requirements for LQGs

Since 1989, California's HWCL (Hazardous Waste Control Law) requires most LQGs to pursue waste minimization. The original legislation was Senate Bill 14, so most practitioners call them "SB 14" plan requirements. The requirements have been adjusted over the years, most recently in June 2012, when some provisions were expanded to “pollution prevention” and the formal name of the legislation changed to "Pollution Prevention and Hazardous Waste Source Reduction and Management Review Act." SB 14 is administered by the state DTSC (Department of Toxic Substances Control), in coordination with the county, and city-level, environmental agencies that enforce most generator requirements.

SB 14 applies to a facility that generates more than 12,000 kg of hazardous waste annually (roughly the 1,000 kg/mo that qualifies as an LQG), and which does not qualify as a “small business.” These generators complete a Source Reduction Review and Plan (Plan) every 4 years. Each Plan is to provide the following information:

  • facility name, location and Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code

  • descriptions of each routinely generated hazardous waste, and extremely hazardous waste (EHW), stream that meets either of the following criteria:

    • wastewater. Waste stream is a wastewater processed in a wastewater treatment unit for discharge in environmental compliance with water quality laws, and amounts to more than 5 percent of the total weight of all waste streams (both aqueous and non-aqueous)

    • other wastes. Waste stream is not a wastewater, and amounts to more than 5 percent of the total weight of all non-wastewater hazardous wastes

  • for each of such hazardous waste stream, determine any alternatives to or modifications of the generator’s processes, operations and procedures that may be implemented to reduce amounts of hazardous waste generated

  • include ways to document and implement technically feasible and economically practicable source reduction measures

  • provide a timetable outlining reasonable and measurable progress to implementing selected measures

  • set numerical goals for waste reduction for the 4-year period

Each generator also prepares a Summary Progress Report (SPR) that summarizes and quantifies the results achieved in the preceding 4-year period and estimates the results to be achieved during the coming 4-year period. Plans require financial certifications.

Finally, each generator also prepares an annual Hazardous Waste Management Performance Report (Report), assessing the effectiveness of waste management procedures carried out during the previous year. Each Report must include the following information:

  • facility name, location and SIC code

  • for each waste stream covered in the Plan, the following:

    • estimate quantity generated and managed during baseline year (the last reporting year) and during last year (“reporting year”)

    • abstract summarizing the effect of each hazardous waste management measure implemented since the baseline year on your generation and management of hazardous waste

  • description of any factors during the 4-year cycle affecting hazardous waste generation and management since the baseline year

By requiring generators to conduct formal reviews using knowledge of their industry’s technologies, processes and operations, the state has avoided the need to impose inflexible and stringent requirements for reducing hazardous waste-related problems.

If you work in a California facility subject to SB 14, you should have been meeting these standards for decades. If your facility is not inCalifornia, or qualifies as a SQG, it’s still useful to begin to apply these approaches. The checklist which follows can help you start.

Implementation Checklist

  • Does your organization assign waste management costs directly to the process and products that generate the waste when evaluating profitability?

  • Does your organization have a waste minimization program?

    • is it formal?

    • does it include any specific goals or directives?

    • is an individual or group directly assigned to implement it?

    • do the program’s managers have authority and resources to evaluate processes that generate wastes?

    • do the program’s managers have authority and resources to initiate process reviews and/or changes to reduce waste volumes and hazards?

  • Is there a list of each hazardous waste stream generated?

    • Are total generation rates quantified (if from multiple locations onsite)?

    • Is each process that generates the waste identified and quantities assigned?

  • Has each process been evaluated to determine whether changes (alternative inputs and/or process steps) might reduce quantities of hazardous waste generated, and/or the type and extent of hazards in the waste?

    • Are changes evaluated for technical practicality?

    • Are changes evaluated for economic feasibility (including consideration waste management costs)?

  • How often are each of these steps repeated to incorporate technical, economic and regulatory changes?

  • Have any waste minimization changes been implemented?

    • have the benefits and costs been identified?

    • have the changes been publicized (internally and/or externally)?


Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 16 existing products, and writes quarterly updates for them all including OSHA Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and the CAL/OSHA Compliance Auditing Guide, which he co-authored with Specialty Technical Consultants, Inc.

Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).

Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).

You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at:

Tags: California Legislation, Environmental risks, Environmental, EHS, EPA, Hazcom, effluent, EEOC