Monday 17 September 2012

EPA Wiper Rules: A 27 Year INDA Campaign to level the playing field.

Jessica Franken of INDA reviewed the 27 year INDA campaign to persuade the EPA to level the playing field for the continuing contest between disposable and reusable industrial wipes.  Disposables have been subject to the overly-stringent federal hazardous waste regulations while laundered shop towels have been exempt.  The key regulation is the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act which contains a “mixture rule” under which any mixture of materials containing any trace of hazardous waste has to be disposed of as hazardous waste.  So, disposable wipes which have been in contact with a solvent must be subjected to the expensive hazardous waste management requirements while laundered shop towels used with the same solvent are not regarded as hazardous.  Significant State-to-State variations have arisen but the laundry industry can tell customers that their shop-towels are cheaper to use and a lot less hassle than disposables.

In 1985 Kimberly Clark sought an exemption for disposables with minimal
solvent contamination on the basis that the threat to the environment or health was negligible.  In 1987 Scott Paper filed a second petition and the laundry industry sought exclusion from the definition of solid waste.  The EPA agreed that disposables were over-regulated and commenced to address the issues related to wipes as a whole.  Several years of studies followed and in November 2003 a new framework of conditions which allowed disposables to be excluded from hazardous waste and shop towels to be excluded from solid waste was published.  However the rules for disposables disposal were much tighter than those for laundered wipes processing despite the fact that the laundry sludge weighed more than the disposables.  This caused several groups to suggest that the Laundry Industry was exerting too much influence on the EPA and in 2005 the EPA concluded that while the influence was considerable, it was not illegal.

In 2006 the EPA announced it would redo its risk analysis, update data, revise models and have them peer reviewed.  In Oct 2009 they proposed a new rule allowing all solvent contaminated wipes and laundry sludge to go to lined landfill unless contamination with with perchoroethylene was present.  INDA filed supporting comments but nothing happened until November 2010 when the newly empowered Republicans declared they would tackle the EPA and excessive regulation.  In Jan 2011 Obama issued EO 13563 which instructed the EPA and others to review all regulations which may be “overly burdensome, outmoded, unnecessary or hindering growth and job creation”.  

INDA immediately lobbied for completing the new rule and had their key question picked up by the environmental trade press.  EPA management saw this coverage and demanded that the rule was completed by Summer 2012.  Publication in August 2012 is now virtually certain but the detailed wording is not.  INDA believe it will create the required conditional exclusion for disposables and bring laundered wipes into the Federal regime for the first time.  As a result virtually all disposable wipes will be allowed into lined landfill and the system costs of using disposables will at last be comparable with using laundered wipes.

When will the new rule come into force?  That depends on whether or not it is promulgated pursuant to the Hazardous Solid Waste Amendments.  If so it will take another 6 months: if not 2 years, and even then there may be some 5 or 10 states which may not pick it up.

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