As a hazardous waste generator, properly profiling, labeling, and transporting waste in accordance with state and federal regulations is essential to your business. However, even if your waste is in appropriate containers and accompanied by flawless paperwork, you are still responsible for it during transportation to a disposal site. In fact, generators remain responsible for the waste they produce even after disposal and are liable for any costs associated with future releases of their waste. Why?
In 1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was passed, which created regulations regarding the proper management of hazardous waste. Before the RCRA, the country faced numerous issues with massive amounts of waste being disposed of in environmentally unfriendly ways.
Included in the act, and to help prevent future releases and other environmental emergencies, the EPA established a “cradle-to-grave” tracking system for all hazardous waste produced by generators. The phrase “cradle-to-grave” refers to the fact that hazardous waste generators are responsible for their waste from the moment it is generated and characterized, up until its’ final treatment or disposal. Hazardous waste manifests are used to track hazardous waste from the moment it leaves the generator facility to the moment it is transported, treated, recycled or disposed of.
Joint and Several Liability is also included in each hazardous waste generator’s cradle-to-grave responsibility, a fact which many generators are not aware of. Joint and several liability means that if there is ever a future incident while releasing landfilled or land-disposed hazardous wastes, every generator who has ever disposed of their waste into that landfill is a responsible party and therefore liable for cleanup costs.
A hazardous materials release occurs when there is a leak, spill, or improper disposal of a hazardous substance or material that threatens either the health and safety of humans, or that of the surrounding environment. Even when using a third-party to transport and dispose of hazardous waste, a generator is still responsible for any mishaps that occur during its travel.
Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs)
Because of these liabilities, TSDFs are required to implement protections and procedures to prevent releases. However, they are not always enough to cover the expense of cleanup and remediation after an incident. When a TSDF is unable to fully cover the associated costs, the responsible parties must pay the difference. Typically, the costs are divided among the responsible parties based on the amount of waste they have disposed of in the landfill. However, if one of the parties cannot be located, is out of business, bankrupt, or otherwise unable to pay their share, their portion of costs is redistributed evenly among the other parties.
This liability makes it prudent for generators to responsibly handle and dispose of their waste. Although landfilling waste can be initially less expensive than other disposal methods like fuel blending or incineration, this method possesses a higher amount of liability that should always be considered.
Liability insurance is available to waste generators for purchase to help cover the costs of future releases. However, it is important to note that cradle-to-grave liability is not transferred to transportation companies when waste is transported for disposal. It is also not transferred to the disposal facility once they receive the waste, again, the liability remains with the generator.
The EPA encourages generators to recycle their waste, when possible, since recycling reduces the use of unused materials, keeping waste away from landfills. However, when recycling waste is not an option, it is essential to consider the transportation company and TSDF that will be handling the waste. Before coming to a decision, generators should visit the facilities, review their current EPA permits, perform an audit of their storage, treatment, handling and disposal process, review their recordkeeping procedures, and ensure they have proper liability insurance.
Choosing a dependable treatment facility will not guarantee that spills, releases, or accidents won’t happen, but it will help limit your liability in the future. Our waste experts are experienced in waste classification, manifests, profiling, and transportation. We can also assist with audits and create customized disposal plans suitable for your business needs and goals. You can learn more about our EHS compliance solutions, or contact us to talk to a hazardous waste expert today.