Understanding The RCRA Empty Rule
Daily we receive calls about what is one to do with an empty container that once contained a hazardous liquid or even solid. About a quarter of our calls are people trying to do the right thing in disposing of their empty leftover paint/stain cans and we wanted to take a moment to give you some reference from the USEPA as to helping you better understand an exemption they came up with for containers that are now empty and how to properly dispose of them called "RCRA Empty Containers".
It often surprises most waste generators to learn the government created an exemption called "RCRA Empty Container" which was created to help waste generators dispose of their containers without paying a company some crazy exorbitant disposal cost. Below is information from the U.S.E.P.A. to help you better understand what to do with your now empty container which the Environmental Protection Agency refers to as "RCRA Empty"
What Is the Definition of RCRA Empty?
On a federal level, a RCRA empty container is not subject to the EPA disposal regulations (Subtitle C) and can be disposed of through the solid waste stream (regular trash). The EPA defines “Empty” for most hazardous waste containers as follows (see 40 CFR §261.7(b)):
All wastes have been removed that can be removed using the common practices (pouring, pumping, etc.) and no more than 3% by weight of the total capacity of the container remains in the container.
There are two exceptions to the above definition:
Compressed gas is empty when the container is no longer under pressure or has been punctured. This can be difficult to determine when the pressure equals ambient pressure.
Acute hazardous waste (P-listed) must be triple rinsed with a chemically applicable solvent in order to be considered empty (or the container with the P-listed residue must be managed as a HW). The solvent keeps the code following the rinse – and this rinsate accumulated and managed as a HW.
After all medications have been dispensed, stock bottles that contained a P-listed pharmaceutical (e.g., warfarin/coumadin, physostigmine, or nicotine) are still considered hazardous waste, except in states that have adopted the “new pharmaceutical rule.”
The new rule, Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals and Amendment to the P075 Listing for Nicotine, is published in Federal Regulations 40 CFR 266 Subpart P and provides specific definitions for empty pharmaceutical containers. As the rule is adopted by each state, hazardous waste quantities will reduce in healthcare facilities and pharmacies.
Here is how the rule (see 40 CFR §266.507) breaks down the pharmaceutical definition of “empty”::
Stock bottles, dispensing bottles, vials, blister packs, or ampules are considered empty and the residues are not regulated as hazardous waste once the pharmaceuticals have been removed from the stock bottle, dispensing bottle, vial, ampule, or the unit-dose container using the common practices for that type of container.
Syringes are considered empty, and the residues are not regulated as hazardous waste after the contents have been removed by fully depressing the plunger of the syringe.
Intravenous (IV) bags are considered empty, and the residues are not regulated as hazardous waste provided the pharmaceuticals in the IV bag have been fully administered to a patient.
If a syringe or IV bag is not fully administered, it is not empty and needs to be managed and disposed of as hazardous waste following all applicable federal, state, and local waste requirements.
If a hazardous waste pharmaceutical container does not meet one of the definitions for “empty” – §261.7 or §266.507– then it is still a hazardous waste. A few examples for when this may occur are residues in inhalers, nebulizers, or tubes of ointments, gels, or creams.
State Regulations on RCRA Empty Containers May Vary! Check with your local state to inquire about their RCRA Empty Container Rules and Exceptions!!!
Always confirm in which state the waste is being generated. Does the state have additional contingencies to the definition of “empty” hazardous waste containers (as states can have regulations more stringent than the federal regulations)? If the waste is in containers that last held pharmaceuticals, is 266 Subpart P adopted in that state? These answers will help confirm the best disposal options available to the customer.
We hope this better answers your questions as to what to do with a RCRA Empty Container. If you have further questions, please reach out to our staff by contacting us on our contact us form/tab and we will be more than happy to further assist you with determining what to do with your empty containers or containers that are nearly empty.