At long last—we have clarity from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on solvent-contaminated shop rags (also known as wipers). On July 31, 2013, EPA published a rule on the proper handling and disposal of solvent-contaminated rags/wipes. EPA’s new rule contains a “conditional exemption” that excludes solvent-contaminated wipes that are disposed of from the definition of hazardous waste.
In the past, ambiguity from EPA on the waste classification of shop rags has resulted in a patchwork of state regulations; most states consider rags contaminated with solvents to be subject to hazardous waste rules. On the other hand, reusable wipes (i.e., rags that are laundered by a commercial laundry and reused) have been exempt from hazardous waste regulations in most states. The EPA states in the July 31 ruling that it is providing national consistency in regard to the regulation of shop wipes.
The rule stipulates the following conditions must be met for solvent-contaminated rags:
- Rags may not be stored on site for more than 180 days.
- No free liquids are permitted, as determined by the Paint Filter Liquids Test (U.S. EPA Test Method 9095B).
- Rags must be stored in a non-leaking closed container.
- Facilities must maintain documentation demonstrating that rags are being managed as excluded solvent-contaminated wipes.
The rule also states that rags that are laundered and reused are exempt from solid waste regulations.
A couple of caveats: Rags contaminated with trichloroethylene are not part of this exclusion. In addition, the EPA rule does not go into effect until January 31, 2014, so facilities that generate solvent-contaminated rags should continue to follow their state’s requirements for handling and disposal.