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AFS Submits Comments on the New Requirements for Used Drum Management and Reconditioning that EPA Is Considering

Jeff Hannapel

EPA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) to solicit input on regulatory and non-regulatory options to manage used plastic and metal drums to protect human health and the environment.  Specifically, EPA is seeking information on whether it should develop a new regulation that would impose additional requirements on how empty drums are managed. 

This action was prompted by a September 2022 Drum Reconditioning Damage Case Report that concluded the following: 

  • many drums received by reconditioners that claimed to be “empty” were not empty as defined by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA); 

  • the large volumes of drums that met the RCRA definition of “empty” contained significant amounts of hazardous waste residues that under existing regulation may not be managed effectively to protect human health and the environment; and 

  • a significant number of damage cases reported from releases of hazardous constituents at drum reconditioning facilities. 

None of these damage cases involved the management of drums at metalcasting operations.  In addition, EPA has also identified significant environmental justice impacts from used drum management and reconditioning that could pose some additional challenges for the metalcasting industry. 

Existing Definition of “RCRA Empty” Container  

Under the existing regulatory provisions, drums that contained hazardous chemicals are not subject to hazardous waste regulations, if they meet the definition of “empty.”  To be considered “empty” under RCRA, drums must meet the following conditions: 

  • all wastes have been removed that can be removed using “practices commonly employed” to remove materials from that type of container,  

  • no more than 2.5 centimeters (cm) or 1 inch (in) of residue remains or no more than 3 percent by weight remains in the container, and 

  • container that contained an acute hazardous waste is tripled rinsed with a solvent or other equivalent removal procedure. 

Accordingly, the management and handling of “empty” drums are not subject to hazardous waste requirements under RCRA. 

Non-Regulatory and Regulatory Options 

In the ANPRM, and motivated primarily by the Damage Case Report, EPA specifically requested comments on both non-regulatory and regulatory options to manage used drums.   

Non-Regulatory Options -- The non-regulatory options included:  compliance assistance and enforcement of existing requirements to ensure drums are empty, development of “Standard Operating Procedures” (SOPs) to achieve better compliance, and evaluation of improved drum handling and cleaning technologies.  EPA could implement any of these non-regulatory options under the existing regulatory framework without imposing any new, more stringent regulatory requirements for used drum handling and management. 

Regulatory Options -- EPA also identified possible regulatory options to consider for both generators and reconditioners of used drums.  Some of the new requirements that could be imposed on generators of used drums include the following: 

  • reduce 2.5 cm (1 in) regulatory limits for residues, 

  • require drums to meet structural integrity requirements before shipping, 

  • clarify “commonly employed practices,” 

  • require triple rinse for all used drums and containers, 

  • track and/or keep records of shipments of all empty drums, 

  • require drum labeling to identify hazard posed by the residue in the drum, 

  • require that containers must be empty (not just RCRA empty) before going to scrap recycling or disposal, and 

  • require that used drums and containers with any amount of residue must meet treatment standards prior to land disposal. 

Some of the new requirements that could be imposed on reconditioners of used drums include the following: 

  • develop waste analysis plans for characterizing rinsate, 

  • conduct regular inspections of drum inventory, 

  • facilities must obtain financial assurance, 

  • impose emission controls for drum furnaces, 

  • require permits for wastewater discharges from rinsing containers, 

  • mandate RCRA Subtitle C (hazardous waste) permits, 

  • require that containers must be empty (not just RCRA empty) before going to scrap recycling or disposal, and 

  • require that container with any amount of residue to meet treatment standards prior to land disposal. 

EPA is considering significant changes in how used drums are handled and managed.  EPA appears to be advocating to regulate used drums as hazardous waste, and this could impose significant burdens and challenges for metalcasting operations.   

AFS Comments on EPA’s ANPRM 

Non-Regulatory Options Are the Best Approach -- AFS submitted comments on EPA’s ANPRM and recommended that EPA rely on non-regulatory options and use existing compliance assistance and enforcement programs to address potential concerns regarding used drum management and reconditioning.  First, the references to environmental concerns at drum reconditioning facilities result primarily from generators and reconditioners failing to meet the current regulatory requirements for used drums and regulatory authorities not enforcing the applicable regulatory requirements.  Second, with compliance assistance and enforcement, the existing regulatory approach for used drum management and reconditioning makes sense and appears to work.  Such measures can be used effectively to ensure that the existing regulatory requirements are met, and thereby, minimize any potential damage cases associated with the management and reconditioning of used drums. 

More Stringent Requirements Would Impose Additional Burdens and Provide Disincentives -- AFS urged EPA to be sensitive to the costs and burdens that would be associated with more stringent regulatory requirements for used drums. Imposing such requirements on used drum generators and drum reconditioners would act as a deterrent to maximizing the benefits of used drum reconditioning.  If the regulatory costs and burdens to manage and recondition used drums become too high, generators and reconditioners may abandon their current practices, and rely more on the disposal of single-use drums and containers.  In addition, AFS urged EPA to encourage the continued use of spent metal drums as scrap at foundries  

Discouraging used drum reconditioning would result in more waste sent to landfills and a corresponding increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with the production and disposal of more single-use containers.  AFS stated that EPA should focus its efforts on helping the current regulations work, rather than imposing new, more stringent regulatory burdens and costs that could discourage the reconditioning of used of drums and industrial bulk containers. 

EPA’s Administrative Process -- Following the comment period, EPA will make a decision on whether it will pursue a proposed rulemaking for used drums with new requirements.  EPA has not yet set a definitive timetable for any future actions on this issue.  Should EPA pursue a new rulemaking, it would need to issue a proposed rule with a public comment period before finalizing any new requirements. The AFS environmental committees will continue to monitor this issue and provide input to advance the interests of the metalcasting industry.