US retailers submitted comments on EPA waste management proposals

Source: Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA)

Arlington, Virginia, USA – US retail associations submitted comments last week in response to proposals by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update waste management regulations, that may impact the handling of unsold consumer products and pharmaceuticals by retailers. The comment is backed by the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), the National Grocers Association (NGA), and the National Retail Federation (NRF), and their members (collectively, the Retail Associations).

The EPA’s Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements proposal and the proposed Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals attempt to address compliance challenges for retailers stemming from the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Typically, RCRA applies to large scale manufacturing plants that generate more significant quantities of hazardous wastes, but EPA also applies RCRA to the very small percentage of unsold consumer products that may be recycled, reused or otherwise discarded from a retail store. Nearly all of these products are sold to customers and are either consumed or disposed of in their households, without additional regulation.

Specifically the proposed rules:

  • allow a waste generator to avoid increased burdens of a higher generator status when generating large quantities of hazardous waste „episodically“, or unexpectedly and infrequently. Such episodes may be the result of broken or damaged customer returns, theft or damage within the store, public dumping in trash receptacles or recalls of unusable products;
  • allow very small quantity generators to consolidate hazardous wastes from multiple locations at a „large quantity generator“ site, such as a distribution center, thereby eliminating the disproportionate regulatory burdens of a higher generator status at store-level, provided certain conditions are met;​
  • allow health care facilities to manage hazardous waste pharmaceuticals under tailored, sector-specific regulations, and relax the requirements for managing empty pharmaceutical containers. EPA also solicits comment on potential amendments to the heightened „acute“ hazardous waste classification for smoking cessation products, like low-concentration nicotine patches, gums and lozenges, which subjects retailers to additional in-store requirements.

Unsold consumer products are not ‚wastes‘

„This is an important step forward and the Retail Associations welcome the opportunity to respond to these long-awaited proposals. Although portions of the proposals may offer some relief, the suggested frameworks fall short of easing the burden on retailers who want to manage unsold products in a more sustainable fashion, rather than discarding potentially useful or recyclable items.“ said Sue Pifer, vice president of compliance at RILA. „The Retail Associations again emphasize in their comments that most unsold consumer products and pharmaceuticals are not ‚wastes‘, due to the fact that many are suitable for re-shelving, donation, recycling, liquidation or shipment back to vendors for credit. We look forward to continuing our work with the EPA to further the Agency’s understanding of the unique challenges faced by the retail sector in reverse distribution.“

Reverse distribution involves the removal and consolidation of consumer products and pharmaceuticals that are not sold in retail stores and is a long-standing business practice that is friendly to the environment and good for consumers. The practice pre-dates the arcane application of RCRA to retailers‘ reverse distribution operations.

In 2014, RILA led a coalition of retailers to explain the challenges of complying with RCRA, and some of the issues raised by the coalition were addressed in the proposed rules, released by the EPA in September 2015.

Source: Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA)