Hazardous Waste 101: A Primer for the Cannabis Industry

by Maria Espinoza

What is Hazardous Waste?

Hazardous waste is a waste with properties that make it potentially dangerous or harmful to human health or the environment. They can be the by-products of manufacturing processes, discarded used materials, or discarded unused commercial products, such as cleaning fluids (solvents) or pesticides. In regulatory terms, a hazardous waste is a waste that appears on one of the four RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) lists (the F-list, K-list, P-list, or U-list) or that exhibits one of the four characteristics of a hazardous waste – ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity.1 Hazardous waste is regulated and enforced at the federal level by the Department of Environmental Protection (EPA) and in the state of California by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).

How do I know if my waste is Hazardous?

The DTSC has determined that the burden and liability of correctly characterizing all waste as hazardous or non-hazardous falls upon the generator. If a waste is not a RCRA listed substance it may still be hazardous if it exhibits any of the four characteristics listed above. Generators have three different methods to determine the classification of their waste – analytical testing, safety data sheet (SDS) information, and generator knowledge. If the DTSC does not feel that the generator made a thorough enough effort to properly characterize their waste, they may hold them liable for it. This potentially includes un-earthing it from a landfill, cleaning up any contamination as a result of the original disposal and un-earthing, and then correctly disposing of it. These costs are likely in addition to a fine imposed by the DTSC for improper disposal.

What Does Hazardous Waste Look Like For a Cannabis Operator?

The primary generators of hazardous waste in the cannabis industry are testing labs and manufacturers. Common hazardous waste streams include:

  • Post-extraction cannabis biomass (flower, leaf, trim, shake, etc.) with solvent residuals
  • Post-refinement semi-aqueous byproduct (fat, wax, lipid, terpene, distillate, raffinate, etc.) with solvent residuals
  • Disposable items (gloves, PPE, filters, wipes, containers, utensils, etc.) with solvent residuals
  • Used process liquids (organic solvents, aqueous corrosives, etc.)
  • Used machine fluids from equipment cleanout (vacuum pump oil, heat transfer fluid, etc.)
  • Universal waste (vape pens and batteries)

How do I dispose of Hazardous Waste?

All hazardous waste must be properly labeled and manifested and transported by a licensed hauler to be disposed of at a permitted Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF). A generator must be properly licensed with an EPA ID Number, keep an accurate report of all hazardous materials on-site in the CERS database, and properly label all waste drums. Upon pickup, the generator must have an employee on-site, per 49 CFR 172.704 Subpart H, that is certified to sign the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest. Upon disposal, the TSDF will return the completed manifest, which then must be submitted to the EPA by the generator within 10 days.

With waste management compliance is key, and the consequences for improper disposal can be severe. This is true for cannabis and even more so for hazardous waste. As a cannabis operator it is important to be educated on this aspect of one’s operation to properly understand and mitigate the risk and ensure the safety of all employees.

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Born in the Philippines and raised in the South Bay, Maria Espinoza holds a BS in Biochemistry from Cal State University, East Bay. Over her 25 years of experience in the hazardous waste and e-waste recycling industries she has served in a number of roles including General Manager, Director of Business Development and Director of Sales. She currently serves as Director of Services for GAIACA Waste Revitalization.

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