On Nov. 21, ACA submitted comments to the  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for Used Drum Management and Reconditioning. EPA sought feedback to assist in the potential development of initiatives that would ensure the proper management of used industrial containers that held hazardous chemicals or hazardous waste, up to and including the drum reconditioning process. Options could include revising the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations or other non-regulatory options.

In its comments, ACA noted that the existing regulatory framework for the management of used industrial containers works. ACA also explained its rationale for opposing certain options EPA suggested in the ANPRM.

Management issues across the lifecycle of used containers can occur at industrial facilities, with hazardous waste generators, and with generators of used containers, as well as with transporters and receiving facilities (i.e., drum reconditioners).

EPA’s ANPRM does not propose any regulatory requirements or change any existing regulatory requirements. The agency is using the ANPRM to explore the regulatory and/or non-regulatory options for dealing with the issues surrounding the management of used containers, such as metal or plastic drums, across their lifecycle.

Elimination of the Empty Container Exemption

One of the options identified in the ANPRM is to revise or eliminate the RCRA empty container exemption in 40 CFR § 261.7. ACA does not support this option. The paint and coatings industry utilizes the “RCRA-empty” definition and complies through a variety or combination of methods, including visual inspections, draining the containers upside down until no material flows outward, weighing the containers, and ensuring its personnel are routinely and adequately trained on the applicable regulatory requirements. Licensed recyclers only accept drums or containers from the coatings industry that are deemed empty based on the current regulatory framework. If the container has too much leftover material in it, then it will not be accepted. This process ensures compliance with the current regulations and, in return, safeguards human health and the environment. After the container is reconditioned, industry buys it back for reuse at their facilities.

Without the RCRA empty container exemption, the residual coatings in the bottom of Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) totes, drums, and other industrial containers will need to be removed and disposed of by the point of use facility. This would create thousands of new waste streams and new hazardous waste generators across several industries due to the various contents of the container and what is likely to be thousands of point-of-use locations that are not currently generating any RCRA hazardous waste streams today. These newly regulated hazardous waste generators would include coatings manufacturers, distributors, laboratories, and storage facilities.

With such a significant increase in new hazardous waste generators, there would be an equally significant increase in risk of accidental spills and hazardous exposures. These sites (i.e., the manufacturers, distributors, laboratories, and storage facilities) would now need to ensure their staff are properly trained and ensure that their existing site is designed to handle the expanded waste processing and storage requirements.

“Overall, paint and coatings companies depend on reconditioners to provide cost effective and safe management of their empty containers. If EPA decides to eliminate the RCRA-empty exemption, it will increase the cost of container reconditioning, eliminate the cost savings of reconditioned containers, and generate additional waste for industry to manage. This option is impractical and cost prohibitive.”

Pretreatment Requirements

Another option referenced in the ANPRM is the possibility of mandatory pretreatment requirements, such as triple rinsing of containers. ACA does not support this option. “Any benefits that might be realized would be undermined by the dramatic increase in wastewater and negative environmental effects that would result from this activity,” maintains ACA. “The added burden of rinsing would significantly increase industry’s hazardous waste volume and management costs.”

For the coatings industry, the type of container and what it contains denotes what can be rinsed out properly. While water-based coatings products can be rinsed effectively, solvent-based coatings products, such as alkyd resins, cannot be rinsed without generating even more solvent waste. Most of the containers that are water-based contain non-hazardous chemicals, such as latex resins and waxes. Solvent-based resins and additives are stored in metal drums, and rinsing those drums is not practical. Those metal drums are put on a drum stand to drain the container completely. “Rinsing a solvent-based metal drum will only create more hazardous solvent waste since it cannot be used in a batch of paint due to solvent restrictions.”

If EPA decides to require pretreatment of empty industrial containers, such as triple rinsing, there will be significant environmental and monetary impacts. For waterborne products, rinsing is already done. However, for solvent-based products that are not water soluble, the cost is going to be excessive and prohibitive since it will generate more solvent waste that will need to be captured and disposed of properly. The monetary impact will be the cost of the solvent plus the disposal of that solvent. In addition, the metal drum recycler will still have to burn the drum out when it gets them, so extensive rinsing is a waste of time and materials.

ACA also noted that air emissions associated with solvent cleaning need to be considered. Triple rinsing of containers results in the use of solvents (hazardous chemicals) where the residual material is not miscible nor compatible with water. Most hazardous chemicals used in the paint and coatings industry are not miscible nor compatible with water. The solvents needed to triple rinse empty containers will ultimately increase the generation of hazardous waste and require treatment to applicable management method standards, such as incineration (H040) and fuel blending (H061). This will increase harmful air emissions and negatively impact air quality.

ACA urged EPA to maintain the regulatory structure currently in place for used drum management and reconditioning, and to develop non-regulatory guidance to promote compliance with the existing regulations. “This guidance could be developed in collaboration with EPA, industry, and other interested stakeholders to ensure it captures the used industrial container management issues identified in the ANPRM.”

Contact ACA’s Rhett Cash for more information.