Written by: Virginia McCormick, NES, Inc.
The DTSC Hazardous Waste Generators program, as enforced by local CUPAs, regulates the hazardous waste generated by California businesses.
This article is part of a special dedicated series that covers California CUPAs and the Unified Program. For a complete overview, see the June 2019 NES article California CUPA Overview: Enforcing the CalEPA Unified Program.
Regulating California’s Hazardous Waste Generators
As part of the California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal EPA), the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) is tasked with protecting public health and the environment from toxic harm. In order to achieve this goal, DTSC created California’s “Hazardous Waste Generators program,” which is a term that encapsulates the many unique programs and regulations developed in order to manage hazardous wastes within California.
The Hazardous Waste Generators program ensures that all hazardous wastes generated by businesses are properly handled, recycled, treated, stored, and disposed. The Hazardous Waste Generators program is enforced in California through Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs) and/or Participating Agencies (PAs).
The predecessor of DTSC, the Hazardous Waste Management Unit, was established in 1973 – three years before the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Generators in California are required to operate in compliance with both State and federal hazardous waste regulations. However, this article will primarily focus on the CUPA-enforced, California-specific regulations.
Both State and federal hazardous waste regulations must be adhered to.
Defining Hazardous Waste Generators: SQGs & LQGs
Hazardous waste is defined as a waste with properties that make it potentially dangerous or harmful to human health or the environment. Hazardous wastes may be a liquid, solid, or sludge. The wastes may be byproducts of manufacturing processes or materials that have been determined by the generator to no longer be usable.
In California, a generator is defined by DTSC as any person whose actions produce, “hazardous waste identified or listed in Chapter 11 of [California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Division 4.5] or whose act first causes a hazardous waste to become subject to regulation.”
Generators in California are responsible for properly characterizing all their hazardous wastes. Generators must count the entire quantity of hazardous waste – both RCRA and non-RCRA – generated in a month at their facility to determine their status for that month. There are two State-defined categories of hazardous waste generators: small quantity generators (SQGs) and large quantity generators (LQGs). Very small quantity generators (VSQGs) fall into a federal EPA-defined category that is not recognized in California.
Some wastes, such as fluorescent lamps and batteries, are categorized as universal wastes. While universal wastes have specific handling requirements under California’s Universal Waste Rule, this category of hazardous waste is not included when determining generator classification.
SQGs produce less than 1,000 kilograms of hazardous waste per month and/or 1 kilogram or less of acutely or extremely hazardous waste per month. LQGs produce 1,000 kilograms or more of hazardous waste per month and/or more than 1 kilogram of acutely or extremely hazardous waste per month.
Under the Hazardous Waste Generators program, generators are divided into two categories based on the amount of waste created per month.
Emergency Response Plans & ID Numbers
After counting and evaluating the waste using the Hazardous Waste Determination procedures in 22 CCR 66262.11, the Hazardous Waste Generators program requires that certain safety procedures be developed and put into use, such as Emergency Response Plans and ID numbers.
Emergency Response Plans are required by DTSC for all generators. LQG plans are often referred to as Contingency Plans, while SQGs must implement certain emergency procedures. These protocols spell out the actions that must be taken in case of an emergency, such as a fire, explosion, or unplanned release/spill. All plans and procedures must be reviewed and updated when changes occur to regulations, operations, equipment, or facility design.
In addition to Contingency Plans, each site that generates hazardous waste must have both State and federal ID numbers (failure to obtain and/or maintain an ID number was one of the most common generator violations in 2018). California and federal EPA ID numbers are issued by DTSC and must be verified annually to avoid deactivation.
Hazardous Waste Minimization, Treatment & Disposal
Hazardous waste management in California primarily focuses on source reduction. DTSC argues that minimization lowers overall costs for businesses and is good for the environment by reducing the amount of hazardous waste produced and/or potentially released. This means generators are required to first consider ways to lessen the amount of hazardous waste produced before turning to reuse, treatment, or disposal options.
Hazardous waste is intended to reach its final destination at a treatment, storage, and disposal facility (TSDF). This is the last step in the life cycle of hazardous waste in what is known as the RCRA “cradle-to-grave” concept that, “follows the generator and transporter in the chain of waste management activities.” TDSF regulations are often stricter than those that apply to generators or transporters, having both general facility standards as well as unit-specific design and operating criteria.
For more information on hazardous waste reporting requirements and waste minimization, see the July 2018 NES article SB 14 Reporting for California Hazardous Waste Generators.
Employee training is an important factor of the Hazardous Waste Generators program.
Training: How Hazardous Waste Generators Stay Compliant
Beginning on January 1, 2019, DTSC implemented amendments to California Code of Regulations, Title 22, Division 4.5 that impacted many hazardous waste generators in California. The regulations, which NES reported on in November of 2018, primarily affected LQGs and TSDFs by outlining training requirements.
LQG employees must be familiar with waste handling and emergency response procedures relevant to their responsibilities and must receive initial training within 180 days of hire or job placement and refresher training annually. SQG employees are subject to similar training requirements. All training must be documented and be readily available if requested by a State or federal inspector.
Staying in compliance with the ever-changing rules and regulations governing your operations can be challenging. Consistent training is not just the best way to stay on top of regulations for hazardous waste generators – it is also required to maintain compliance.
NES Training & Consulting
NES regularly provides a broad range of environmental health & safety training programs and consulting services on behalf of public and provide businesses throughout California and beyond. If your business requires assistance with Hazardous Waste Generator program compliance, please contact NES at 916-353-2360 / 800-637-2384 or via email at email@example.com.
DTSC: Managing Hazardous Waste