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Plain English Guide to Regulations
Solid/Hazardous Waste Management

How to Comply: Determine If Your Waste is Hazardous

What is Hazardous Waste?

This may seem like a simple question; however, the answer is somewhat complicated because of special rules and exemptions. The definition begins with an explanation of a "solid waste." A solid waste is any solid, liquid, or contained gaseous material that is discarded by being disposed of, burned or incinerated, or recycled. (There are some exceptions for recycled materials.) It can be the by-product of a manufacturing process or simply a commercial product that you use in your business--such as a cleaning fluid or battery acid--that is being disposed of. Even materials that are recyclable or can be reused in some way (such as burning used oil for fuel) may be considered solid waste.

"Hazardous waste" can be one of two types:

1. Listed Waste. Your solid waste is considered hazardous if it appears on one of four lists published in the Code of Federal Regulations (40 CFR Part 261) (Links to full text regulations). Currently, more than 400 wastes are listed. Wastes are listed as hazardous because they are known to be harmful to human health and the environment when not managed properly.

Even when managed properly, some listed wastes are so dangerous that they are called "acutely hazardous wastes." Examples of acutely hazardous wastes include wastes generated from some pesticides that can be fatal to humans even in low doses.

There are several listed hazardous wastes commonly generated by metal finishing. These include:

  • Wastewater treatment sludge (RCRA waste code F006)
  • Spent process solutions containing lead (RCRA waste code D008)
  • Spent process solutions that are corrosive (RCRA waste code D002)
  • Spent solvents (F001, F002, F003, F004)

2. Characteristic Waste. If your solid waste does not appear on one of the hazardous waste lists, it might still be considered hazardous if it demonstrates one or more of the following characteristics:

  • It catches fire under certain conditions. This is known as an ignitable waste and it has a special RCRA waste code (D001). Examples are paints and certain degreasers and solvents.
  • It corrodes metals or has a very high or low pH. This is known as a corrosive waste and it has a special RCRA waste code (D002). Examples are acid or alkaline cleaning baths, and battery acid.
  • It is unstable and explodes or produces toxic fumes, gases, and vapors when mixed with water or under other conditions such as heat or pressure. This is known as a reactive waste and it has a special RCRA waste code (D003). Examples are certain cyanides or sulfide-bearing wastes.
  • It is harmful or fatal when ingested or absorbed, or it leaches toxic chemicals into the soil or ground water when disposed of on land. This is known as a toxic waste. Toxic wastes have special waste codes (D004 to D0043), depending on the contaminant present. For example, lead contaminated waste has the code D008. 

Examples of characteristic waste generated by metal finishers are wastes that contain high concentrations of heavy metals, such as spent stripping solutions or sludges. You can determine if your waste is toxic by having it tested using the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP), or by simply knowing that your waste is hazardous or that your processes generate hazardous waste.

What is NOT Hazardous Waste

RCRA regulations include several exceptions that are important to plating facilities. These exceptions are found in 40 CFR 261.4 (Link to full text regulations). The following are not solid or hazardous wastes:

  • Wastewater discharges from plating facilities that are regulated under the Clean Water Act.
  • Domestic sewage discharged to a POTW.
  • Secondary materials that are reclaimed and returned to the original process in which they were generated (certain provisions must be met).
  • Commercial chemical products, when recycled.



The information contained in this site is provided for your review and convenience. It is not intended to provide legal advice with respect to any federal, state, or local regulation.
You should consult with legal counsel and appropriate authorities before interpreting any regulations or undertaking any specific course of action.

Please note that many of the regulatory discussions on STERC refer to federal regulations. In many cases, states or local governments have promulgated relevant rules and standards
that are different and/or more stringent than the federal regulations. Therefore, to assure full compliance, you should investigate and comply with all applicable federal, state and local regulations.