What are Universal Wastes?

Have you heard the term “universal wastes?” I’ll admit, the first time I did I didn’t know what it meant. For me, the word “universal” really made it seem like it could be anything. Luckily for all of us, I have since learned what it really means.

The EPA has designated four specific wastes that are known as “universal wastes.” These are batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment (like old thermometers), and lamp bulbs.

Both the EPA website and 40 CFR detail the universal waste definitions of each of these waste types. Additionally, they provide regulations that generators of these wastes must adhere to. For reference, these are the EPA definitions of each of these waste types:

  • Batteries – “Battery means a device consisting of one or more electrically connected electrochemical cells which is designed to receive, store, and deliver electric energy. An electrochemical cell is a system consisting of an anode, cathode, and an electrolyte, plus such connections (electrical and mechanical) as may be needed to allow the cell to deliver or receive electrical energy. The term battery also includes an intact, unbroken battery from which the electrolyte has been removed.” [1]
  • Pesticides – “Pesticide means any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest, or intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant…” [2] There are some exceptions which can be seen in detail on the EPA website here.
  • Mercury-containing Equipment – “Mercury-containing equipment means a device or part of a device (including thermostats, but excluding batteries and lamps) that contains elemental mercury integral to its function.” [3]
  • Lamp Bulbs – “fluorescent light bulbs and other mercury-containing bulbs…” [4]

As mentioned above, each of these waste types has specific federal regulations associated with it (and possible individual state regulations). The links back to the EPA site will take you to more information about the regulations set out in 40 CFR.

Additionally, a good place to start out with your company is to ensure that all employees are properly trained in universal waste handling regulations and that there is a clear understanding of the different regulations. Doing this will help your company avoid potentially dangerous and costly universal waste violations.

What is a Hazardous Waste Reduction Plan?

According to the EPA, “the National Waste Minimization Program supports efforts that promote a more sustainable society, reduce the amounts of waste generated, and lower the toxicity and persistence of wastes that are generated.” The program focuses on 31 separate “priority chemicals” found in many of our nation’s wastes and products. The primary focus is on eliminating or reducing the quantity of these chemicals that are produced with a secondary focus on recycling them when reduction or elimination cannot be achieved.

There are a few different tools and methods that can be used to aid in the reduction and elimination of these wastes including, “lean manufacturing, energy recovery, Environmental Management Systems (EMS), and green chemistry.” More information about each of these methods can be found on the Heritage website.

A major player in the minimization game is the hazardous waste reduction plan. A hazardous waste reduction plan (often referred to as a waste minimization plan) is required for all hazardous waste generators. General requirements include:

  • Corporate policy statement of support for pollution prevention
  • Description of your pollution prevention planning team(s) makeup, authority, and responsibility
  • Description of how all of the groups (production, laboratory, maintenance, shipping, marketing, engineering, and others) will work together to reduce waste production and energy consumption
  • Plan for publicizing and gaining company-wide support for the pollution prevention program
  • Plan for communicating the successes and failures of pollution prevention programs within your company
  • Description of the processes that produce, use, or release hazardous or toxic materials, including clear definition of the amounts and types of substances, materials, and products under consideration
  • List of treatment, disposal, and recycling facilities and transporters currently used
  • Preliminary review of the cost of pollution control and waste disposal
  • Description of current and past pollution prevention activities at your facility
  • Evaluation of the effectiveness of past and ongoing pollution prevention activities
  • Criteria for prioritizing candidate facilities, processes, and streams for pollution prevention projects

These Hazardous Waste Reduction Plans should be updated annually and there should always be a copy onsite. Additionally, while the points above cover national requirements, many states have additional criteria that must be met. By making sure to keep this plan up-to-date and available you can help prevent EPA violations for your company.

How to Avoid Hazardous Waste Weekly Inspection Violations

Sometime in the next couple of months we will be publishing a new eBook about some common hazardous waste generator violations and how you can go about avoiding them. To tide you over until that comes out though, I’d like to take our post today to write about weekly inspections of hazardous waste storage areas and what these inspections should include.

Inspections should be done once a week on the same day. Mondays and Fridays are typically not good choices because they are often spent catching up from the weekend or readying for the weekend respectively. So, once you pick your inspection day you will need to have both a designated inspector and a back-up because you want to do everything possible to ensure you will never miss a week. Record your weekly inspections in an inspection log.

Inspections should consist of the following at a minimum:

1. Is the area free of debris and other materials?

2. Is the ground clean and dry?

3. Are container tops free of spillage?

4. Is the area free of spills or leaks?

5. Are all of the containers in good condition? (Free of dents and corrosion, not bulging, or otherwise deteriorating?)

6. Are all containers properly closed?

7. Are containers labeled with hazardous waste labels?

8. Is the following information on the labels filled out?

    • Generator name and address
    • Accumulation start date
    • Contents
    • Physical state
    • Hazardous properties

9. Is the information on the labels legible?

10. Have wastes been disposed of within the allowable accumulation time?

11. Are the containers compatible with their contents?

12. Are incompatible wastes stored separately?

13. Is there adequate aisle space?

By making sure to check each of these things every week you will ensure that your company is not responsible for any hazardous waste accidents and ensures that you will not get in trouble with the EPA. Keep checking our blog for a link to the full eBook coming soon!

What is a Carbon Footprint?

Assuming you have not been living under a rock for the past few years, you have most likely heard the term “carbon footprint.” It’s one of those terms that people throw around in an attempt to sound “greener.” But if you’re like me, you may wonder what the word actually means. Is it like carbon paper? Am I actually making a big black footprint somewhere? If I step lightly will it lessen my impact? Okay, I’m kind of joking, I know enough about it to know my carbon footprint doesn’t actually involve my feet, but if not our feet, what parts of us do impact our carbon footprints?

So what is a carbon footprint?

Merriam Webster defines carbon footprint as “the amount of greenhouse gases and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period.” Awesome. That makes it 100% clear, right?

But what does that mean?

The Guardian’s Green Living Blog provides a better explanation. They say, “When talking about climate change, footprint is a metaphor for the total impact that something has. And carbon is…shorthand for all the different greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The term carbon footprint, therefore, is…shorthand to describe the best estimate that we can get of the full climate change impact of something. That something could be anything – an activity, an item, a lifestyle, a company, a country or even the whole world.”

It is important to note that although emission totals are generally reported in carbon dioxide (CO2), there are several other greenhouse gasses that contribute to the overall impact (methane, nitrous oxide, refrigerant gases, etc.). Because these other gasses are generally released in much smaller amounts, and in order to simplify the reporting process, they are converted into CO2 equivalents, or CO2e’s.

How can I measure mine or my company’s carbon footprint?

This is really where things get tricky because the carbon footprint of any product, good, or thing is so vast it becomes very difficult to measure. Many companies only account for a portion of the actual footprint. “A magazine publisher might claim to have measured its carbon footprint but in doing so looked only at its office and cars while ignoring the much greater emissions caused by the printing house that produces the magazines themselves.” The carbon footprint of every product includes not only direct emissions from the manufacturing and transportation processes, but also includes several indirect emissions, such as those caused by the extraction and processing of oil, a key component in plastic.

What I mean is this, say you go to the grocery store; you have a gallon of 2% milk in each hand. One gallon is the typical store brand and the other is from a local dairy farm. You know that in the ads for the store you are at they say that they strive to be low emission and to minimize their carbon footprint. The local company is family owned and doesn’t do very much advertising but you know they bring the milk to the store from right up the street. So which do you buy, store brand or local? It’s a difficult problem because measuring total impact is nearly impossible.

As for measuring yours or your company’s carbon footprint, the easiest way would be just to work backwards and be as all inclusive as you can. Remember to think not only about your direct influence, but your indirect influence as well. Although you could be lead down innumerable paths, this should help you to get a basic idea of your impact. And once you get good at thinking this way, it may help you make better (less carbon emission heavy) choices in your life!

Sustainable Business Practices – Part 3

In closing our series on sustainable business practices, I felt it wouldn’t be conclusive without a look into the triple bottom line. You can refer to these three ket points as Socially Responsiblity, Environmental Soundness, and Economic Viability or simply: People, Planet, and Profit. These three pillars of business effort are the core of what makes a business sustainable.

Impacts to people are huge for businesses. It starts with its employees at number one, then the people who live near its operations, the people who purchase their goods or services, the people who sell them goods and services, the people who come into contact with any byproducts from their goods or services, the people who are impacted by any changes their operations cause to the environment, etc.

Protecting our planet may be regulated by local municipalities, states and the U.S. EPA – but policing actions are not the same as preventing damage. Consider the environmental hierarchy: reduce, reduce, and recycle. Recycling has the lowest benefit. Reducing wastes and impacts – by not creating them at all – has the most far reaching effect.

Profit is not a four letter word. Profit is a very good thing for the growth of our economy and the improvement of job markets. And it is a proven fact that doing the right thing for our environment can also be lucrative for business. For example, reducing energy usage reduces costs which can drop straight to the bottom line. Innovations in existing products and the development of new products and services to enter the marketplace with an added green benefit or selling point also contribute to increased profitability.

At Heritage, we added a fourth pillar in our sustainable efforts – patrons. Our Patrons are the consumers, people and businesses who engage with our services. Going full circle to assure we consider the ripple effect of all our actions, we believe it is “material” for our business to focus on impacts to our patrons.

If you do your sustainability homework on many other large businesses, you will see that many adjust their focus points as well to complement their business. But no matter what you call them, principles of the triple bottom line are covered.

The upcoming 2013 GRI Global Conference on Sustainability and Reporting has the theme of “Information – Integration – Innovation.” Will this be the set of buzz words for sustainability in the years to come? Freely given information is certainly easier to understand than making sense of company transparency. To me, Integration in this context means making sustainability a part of every aspect of your business – management, employee, and consumer engagement. And again Innovation: seeking new ideas and redesigned old ideas that will change our impacts on the world.

If I’m right about this new wave of understanding, remember you read it here first. 

Costly Hazardous Waste Violations

Information recently released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency confirms that three metal finishing companies in Southern California are paying the (hefty) price for improperly disposing of hazardous waste. Collectively, the three companies will be paying fines of more than $196,650.

Some of these charges include:

  • $74,000 in fines for failure to treat their industrial wastewater to federal standards before discharge.
  • $19,500 in fines for the improper management and treatment of hazardous waste.
  • $3,150 for failure to properly label hazardous waste containers.
  • An additional $100,000 will be spent by one of the companies in order to purchase a sludge dryer, which will reduce hazardous waste generated at the facility by 336 pounds a day.

“’The violation of federal regulations at metal finishing companies poses a risk to workers, as well as surrounding residents,’ said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest.”

Unfortunately, these are not the first violations for these three companies. In March of 2010, an EPA investigation discovered that the first facility had discharged industrial wastewater into the Los Angeles County sewer system. The wastewater tested above federal limits for several toxins such as chromium, cadmium, nickel, and cyanide; which was a violation of the Clean Water Act.

The second of the three was found violating EPA regulations in October of 2010, with violations such as failure to properly label and cover hazardous waste and conducting treatment of hazardous waste without a permit.

In 2011, the last of them was found to be improperly closing and labeling hazardous waste containers as well as failing to properly label, contain, and date used fluorescent lamps; which violates the federal regulations for universal waste.

That’s at least five previous individual violations! The story raises an important question, is your company doing everything it can to remain EPA compliant? It’s best to be vigilant now then to have to pay the price later.

Sustainable Business Practices – Part 2

In today’s technology biased world, people readily search the internet from home, from work, or on the go from their cell phone for answers to all of life’s questions. But do you question the backstory of the answers you find before making a buying decision? 

It feels great to make the healthy decision to pick fresh fruit for a snack. But do you know if the fruit you select is grown and transported locally, from another state, or another country?

Do you select bottled water simply on cost; or do you pay any attention to where it was bottled, how much packaging surrounds the bottles or if the bottle itself has been light weighted to use less plastic? 

Considering there are no mandated sustainability labels for products and services today, what should you question and what should you look for when you do your sustainable homework to check out a business? If you are checking out the sustainability practices of a business from their corporate web-site, look for these major components:

      • Transparency
      • Materiality
      • Reporting
      • Innovation

Transparency: Businesses that wish to be sustainable make a serious commitment to choices that impact more factors than just profit. They commit to noble actions to protect future generations. Companies that want to prove their sustainability commit to being “transparent” in their business actions. This doesn’t mean that private companies have to disclose detailed financials or that any business would openly share trade secrets or intellectual property. It does mean they will publically share their goals and actions (positive and negative) that relate to their impact on our earth.

Materiality: When a business decides it is time to publically talk about their sustainability efforts, they have many decisions to make. But all of those decisions should come back to “material” (physical, relevant) business impacts. For example, a business that manufactures a car is responsible for the complete life cycle of their product from raw material to end of life destruction. All of the impacts to employees and land from the physical manufacture of each part and the assembly of the car, to the impacts of emissions from fossil fuels needed to operate the vehicle and safety of passengers are included in that life cycle and should be addressed by the business in their sustainability efforts.

Reporting:  There are no laws that require businesses to report their sustainability efforts. And there are hundreds of voluntary programs a business can choose – or completely do their own thing (even it that is nothing). The most popular are the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The impetus to start reporting is to satisfy the consumers who may spend their money on your product or service and the financial investment community (including stockholders) that may well help a business to expand and grow. Reporting needs to be timely, include a baseline for comparing current activities, include improvement goals and share the positive and negative aspects of their most recent efforts.

Innovation: Some consumers wait for new technologies to become mainstream and comparably priced to its predecessor before buying something new. But, aren’t we all impressed with those technology companies that are always on the cutting edge? Who are the companies that are on the cutting edge with new green products or improved products? Have you paid any attention to the changes in laundry detergent – that could be a blog of its own! How do you pick the right light bulb, dishwasher, or thermostat? As with buying a hybrid or electric car, you need to compare way more than the sticker price in your decision process.

Sustainable Business Practices – Part 1

When you hear the word “sustainability” what do you think? Most people think “green” or “protecting our earth.” On a personal level though, it comes down how these thoughts are turned into the actions we take at home, at play, and at work. Do you shut off the lights when you leave a room? Do you pay attention to lawn watering bans in the summertime? Are you both recycling and looking for ways to reduce?

You also react to the obstacles business puts in front of you – layers of packaging for food products (a bag inside a box), understanding the chemical composition of products (VOCs in paint), and trying to guess if the latest marketing tactic is real or green washing. How you react to these obstacles is how you embrace your sustainable power!

It is the consumer who decides if a product or service is successful – simply by choosing to buy or walk on by… Do you consider the full impact in your buying decisions? For example, did you know that the transportation and distribution of some products can represent a larger carbon footprint than the manufacture and end of life disposition? That slogan “think global, buy local” has real merit. Yet, some people will still pay more money for specialty water from a tropical island – a product that is transported thousands of miles by boat, truck, and car before it makes it to your refrigerator. Have you considered these high carbon emitting steps it must go through before you can have a cool refreshing drink to carry with you? Will you still choose that option or will you purchase a filter for your tap and some reusable containers? Much of sustainability truly is your decision.

The power is truly yours; you decide what to buy and perhaps where to invest. The public awakening to sustainable business practices is beginning to level the playing field. Just as products become obsolete and new businesses grow rapidly due to new technology development, similar business decline and growth opportunities are happening as consumers use their sustainable buying power. The businesses that are engaging in sustainable practices are moving up while those that don’t remain stagnant or fall behind. Think about it; what products do you choose? What companies do you support or avoid?

People in this newly emerging sustainability field are working to standardize the calculation and publication of product LCAs (life cycle analysis) and carbon labels, similar to nutrition information you see now, may soon show up on the products you use. But until those are standard practice, what options do you have to educate yourself today? Of course, after “use your common sense,” the next answer is the Internet. Many businesses now report all of their sustainable efforts on-line and in annual reports. Just remember, it is a voluntary practice, so if you can’t find sustainability prominently shared on a business web-site… that tells you something as well.

Things You Think You Know About Hazardous Waste – Pt. 3

This week we finish our things you think you know series contributed by Heritage Compliance Manager Mike Karpinski. The topic of this weeks post; as long as a business complies with EPA waste regulations they don’t have to worry about anything else.

Working at a national waste management company like Heritage, I often dream this was the case, but unfortunately there are many other federal agencies such as the Department of Transportation (DOT), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), Department of Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Agency and others that all have regulations pertaining to hazardous wastes and that’s not the end of it.

Each state (except for Iowa and Alaska) also has state specific regulations that are, at a minimum, equivalent to the federal regulations and may be stricter than the federal regulations.  Oftentimes, a state will have equivalent regulations, but different administrative requirements that cannot be ignored. For a company like Heritage that does business across all 50 states that means complying with a minimum of 196 different regulations relating to the proper management of hazardous materials (and I haven’t even mentioned all the city or county requirements yet…. I need an aspirin).

This reminds me, many of the statements made in the previous posts are based on general descriptions of federal regulations. Other Federal, State, or Local regulations may apply to your situation which may counteract these statements. This is one of the best reasons for working with a company like Heritage Environmental Services, LLC, we have experience dealing with these regulations and are trained to work closely with our customers to assist them in complying with these requirements.

Things You Think You Know About Hazardous Waste – Pt. 2

Continuing our series of things you think you know about hazardous waste, this week Heritage Compliance Manager Mike Karpinski wrote about another common hazardous waste misconception. The idea that all non-hazardous wastes are “safe.”

This is the opposite side of last weeks post about all hazardous wastes being dangerous. As far as safety is concerned, it is even more important that people working with wastes understand that just seeing a “Non-Hazardous” or “Non-Regulated” sticker on a container does not mean it is not a dangerous material or is not subject to other regulatory programs.

These lables are simply regulatory classifications that guide the management of such materials. Often times, a material labeled “non-hazardous” can present an equal health or physical hazard to persons working with it as something marked hazardous (remember the story about the swimming pool from last week). Physical and chemical hazards associated with materials have thresholds established by the regulations for classification of waste.

For example, a liquid is considered hazardous waste when it has a flash point less than 140 degrees Fahrenheit by a specified testing protocol. A flashpoint is the temperature at which a particular organic compound gives off sufficient vapor to ignite in the air. Using the flashpoint criteria, gasoline would be a hazardous waste based on flash point, but used motor oil typically would not. That being said, we must note that both of these materials should be handled with care not only from an environmental perspective but from a fire hazard perspective.