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EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] issues proposed rule on industrial wipers: long-awaited proposal seeks to level regulatory playing field.

In an effort that INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, Cary, NC, has been championing for more than a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on November 20 that could ultimately have a dramatic impact on demand for non-woven wiping products used for industrial purposes. Specifically, the proposal would exempt nonwoven wipers used with solvents from hazardous waste regulation when certain conditions are met, making it easier for industrial facilities to dispose of used wipes.

The proposal would also make laundered shop towels subject to provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA, the Federal law governing solid and hazardous waste disposal) for the first time, even though nonwovens have been subject to RCRA requirements since the 1970s.

But, much work must be done before the proposed rule can be finalized and, even then, there is the possibility that state legislatures throughout the country will need convincing to implement the EPA rule once it is on the books. As this article went to press, therefore, a Task Force of the Environmental Subcommittee of INDA's Wiper Focused Interest Committee has convened and was drafting comments to EPA on behalf of the nonwovens industry. The Task Force is also engaged in an outreach effort to get other stakeholder groups to file comment with EPA on this issue and encourage swift finalization of the rule.

Defining "Waste"

Since the early 1970s, wiping products used with industrial solvents and other materials regulated under RCRA have had to be handled and disposed of as hazardous waste. This basically means that print shops, automotive garages, furniture refinishers and other industrial facilities that used nonwoven wipers along with hazardous solvents had to meet stringent, expensive requirements once the wipers were used. Wipers had to be taken off premises by specially-trained disposal personnel, transported in placarded vehicles and sent to either hazardous waste landfills or hazardous waste incinerators. All of this is due to the fact that the RCRA "mixture and derived-from rule" mandates that a non-hazardous waste material such as a nonwoven wipers or rags be considered a hazardous waste if it contains even a single drop of any material--such as most solvents--covered under RCRA.

Laundered shop towels, on the other hand, have historically not been considered as "waste" materials since the towels are re-used after laundering. As such, EPA has left it up to state governments to impose whatever regulation they see fit on the handling of used shop towels.

The end result of this dichotomy is that nonwovens and rags have faced consistent Federal regulations while laundered shop towels have been subject to a hodgepodge of varying, sometimes conflicting, State rules. While this has been tremendously confusing to facilities that use wiping products, it has also generally resulted in an unwarranted preference for shop towels over wipers simply because facilities have fewer obligations when they use shop towels.

The reality, however, is that the disposed solvents--not the wiping products, laundered or disposable--are the materials that should be regulated under RCRA, and solvents contained on laundered shop towels are simply discharged to public sources of water through municipal sewer systems after the laundering process. If it is OK for these solvents to go into the sewers, INDA asked, why is it not OK for them to go to municipal landfills or municipal solid waste incinerators?

The question was actually first raised by Kimberly-Clark in 1985 when it filed a petition with EPA asking the Agency to exclude soiled industrial wipers from the definition of hazardous waste if the wipers contained only small amounts of industrial solvent. INDA first became involved in the early 1990s.

Now, after years of research, prodding and dozens of meetings between EPA and various stakeholder groups, the Agency has issued a proposal seeking to regulate industrial solvents rather than the materials used to capture those solvents. Here is a basic thumbnail sketch of how the proposal would work: Under the proposal, EPA would make both categories of wiping products--laundered and disposable--subject to RCRA requirements but would simultaneously establish a series of conditions which, if met, would allow the wiping products to be handled outside of hazardous waste streams.

With laundered shop towels, for instance, used towels would have to be stored on-site in covered containers and could not be sent to the laundry if they are dripping with liquid. Soiled shop towels would have to be transported to the laundry in sealed bags and, once received at the laundry, launderers would have to ensure that the soiled towels are not dripping. If they are dripping, the laundry would have the option of either removing any liquid prior to washing towels or returning the dripping towels to the industrial facility to remove the liquid. Collected solvent would have to be handled under RCRA conditions no matter who removed it from the shop towel.

For disposables, things are a bit more complicated. Like shop towels, spent wipers would have to be stored in closed containers at industrial facilities. Wipers would also have to be transported in sealed bags, but the bags would have to be marked with special labels so their contents could be easily identified by disposal facilities. If the soiled wipes are "dry" (i.e. they contain no more than five grams of liquid solvent), and they are not soiled with any of 11 specified solvents, they could be disposed of as ordinary trash in landfills. The 11 solvents which would be precluded from landfill disposal are: benzene, carbon tetrachloride, chlorobenzene, cresols, MEK, trichloroethylene, 2-nitropropane, nitrobenzene, pyridine, tetrachloroethylene and methylene chloride. None of these are especially common in industrial solvents, according to EPA. Soiled wipes which contain any amount of these solvents--or contain more than five grams of any solvent--could still be sent to municipal solid waste incinerators so long as the other conditions are met. Spent wipers would also have to pass the "not dripping" test before they could be sent for disposal.

Next Steps

As this article went to press, INDA's Task Force identified a number of issues that need to be addressed in our industry's comments to EPA. First and foremost, INDA would like the Agency to find a way of ensuring that State governments would be required to implement the rule once it has been finalized by EPA. As drafted, EPA notes that it is a deregulatory measure and, as such, could be ignored by any State that chooses not to adopt it. While there are some States that automatically incorporate all EPA regulations into their own environmental laws, INDA would like to avoid the need for lobbying all the remaining States if at all possible.

INDA's Task Force is also concerned that the rule contains certain differences between the conditions that apply to laundered shop towels versus disposable wipers and rags. Most of these are somewhat nuanced, and this article will not detail INDA's concerns. Suffice it to say, however, that INDA's comments will remind EPA that the two guiding principles used to develop the proposed regulation were to: 1) make the conditions that apply to all wiping products as identical as possible; 2) create a set of conditions that will be easy to follow by those who use industrial wiping products.

EPA will accept comments on the NPRM until February 19, 2004. Copies of the proposal are available at or by contacting Kathy Blanton, 703-412-9810; Blanton.

INDA Meets with USTR

An INDA delegation met with United States Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Robert Zoellick--President Bush's point man for all international trade negotiations and Special Textile Negotiator David Spooner at their offices in Washington, DC, on November 12. The purpose of this special opportunity for INDA was to educate the USTR about the nonwovens industry and the unique international trade challenges facing INDA members.

Throughout the meeting, INDA emphasized the nonwoven fabrics industry's support of free trade and the need for other countries to eliminate duties which they charge on nonwoven roll

Peter Mayberry

INDA Director of Governmental Affairs

Jessica Franken

INDA Government Affairs Associate

Peter Mayberry's column appears monthly in NONWOVENS INDUSTRY.
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Author:Mayberry, Peter; Franken Jessica
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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