In 2022, US companies could be fined a civil penalty up to $81,540 per violation, per day for Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste violations.1 However, the monetary cost is small when you think of the costs associated with injuries or environmental incidents that can come from ineffectively handling hazardous waste.
Here are seven tips to help lab managers effectively manage chemical lab waste.
An organized lab has many benefits. Safety is certainly at the top of the list, but it also allows a scientist to be more efficient and productive. Additionally, organization helps with the handling of hazardous wastes. A scientist who knows where or how to easily find a chemical they need doesn’t spend more money buying it when it’s already on site. This also means the site isn’t storing more of a hazardous chemical than is necessary, which is a more environmentally friendly choice. Finally, organization is key during waste disposal. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and each state have strict regulations regarding how waste is separated and stored. Without a well-organized waste disposal location, a site could accumulate a lot of costly fines and increase its risk for an incident.
Use a computer-based inventory system
One of the four goals of RCRA is to find ways to reduce the amount of waste generated.2 A computer-based inventory system can be an effective tool in helping to meet this goal by keeping the site’s chemicals organized. Scientists need an online repository for safety data sheets (SDSs), a way to know who owns a chemical and where it is located, when a chemical was received and when it expires, and a labeling system that includes the chemical name, location, chemical hazards, and unique identifier, such as a barcode or QR code. Lab and safety managers also need the ability to track hazardous chemicals on site for state or federal reporting purposes.
While several systems are available for purchase online, lab and safety managers should examine and evaluate each to find one that fits the site’s needs. Some companies have even custom built their own. Key things to look for in an inventory system include the system’s customer service, user friendliness, and flexibility or adaptability. Finally, the ability to scan each chemical container’s label for inventory reconciliation is especially important for sites with a large number of chemicals. No employee enjoys reconciliation, but digital tools can speed up the task.
Regularly inspect waste storage areas
RCRA “is the public law that creates the framework for the proper management of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste,” which is overseen by the EPA.3 Inspecting waste storage areas is among one of many regulations set forth by RCRA, which can be found in title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) parts 239-282. For instance, 40 CFR 264.174 states that “areas where containers are stored” must be inspected “[a]t least weekly.”4 Lab managers should take note that some auditors may interpret “weekly” differently. Some auditors will believe that it’s too lax to interpret weekly as simply once every work week, i.e., allowing an employee to inspect the storage area on a Monday one week and on a Friday the next week. As such, it’s best practice to assume that weekly inspections should occur at least every seven days.
Read more: Hazardous Waste Management in the Laboratory