The Law on Pesticide Wastes

While all pesticides are hazardous materials, not all pesticide wastes are hazardous wastes. To understand how pesticide wastes are classified and managed, the terms solid waste, hazardous waste, and universal waste are explained below.

Solid waste: A pesticide, or any material that contains any concentration of a pesticide, becomes a solid waste at the point where the pesticide’s holder (i.e., end-user, dealer, distributor, or registrant) decides to discard it. This includes such things as rinse material from containers and spray equipment, leftover spray solutions, excess pesticides, and canceled/suspended pesticides. The person who makes the decision to discard, controls the point at which the pesticide becomes a solid waste. The name ‘solid’ may be misleading because solid waste can take any physical form—solid, liquid, or gas.

To be considered a hazardous waste, a material first must be classified as a solid waste. Wastes are defined as hazardous by the U.S. EPA if they are specifically named on one of four lists of hazardous wastes located in 40 CFR Part 261, Subpart D (listed wastes) or if they exhibit one of four characteristics located in Part 261, Subpart C (characteristic wastes).

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The pesticide label will not indicate if the product is classified as a hazardous waste, but the “Disposal Considerations” or “Regulatory Information” sections of the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) may provide insight. Wastes are considered hazardous because they are known to be harmful to human health and the environment when not managed properly, regardless of their concentrations. Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and its amendments, the U.S. EPA governs the management, transportation, and disposal of hazardous wastes. Additionally, the U.S. DOT governs the packaging and transportation of regulated wastes under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HTMA) and its amendments. For more information, see the U.S. EPA’s Links to Hazardous Waste Programs and U.S. State Environmental Agencies.

Universal waste is a category of hazardous waste containing materials that are commonly used by consumers, thus the term ‘universal.’ At the federal level, universal wastes include pesticides, batteries, mercury-containing equipment, and lamps (40 CFR Part 273). States may add additional products to the list. The Universal Waste Rule allows individuals and businesses to transport, handle and recycle universal wastes in a manner that differs from the requirements for most other hazardous wastes. The more relaxed requirements for managing universal wastes facilitates state pesticide disposal assistance, or Clean Sweep, programs. Pesticides fall under universal waste regulations only in the situation of a recall, suspension, or cancellation described above or when collected as part of a waste pesticide collection program.

For further information, visit the U.S. EPA’s RCRA Orientation Manual. In addition, the RCRA Online  allows you to search for documents on disposal, treatment, and other RCRA-related topics.

Compiled by Wayne Buhler, PhD