Am I Liable if I Don't Specially Handle my Business's Hazardous Waste?


While separate regulations exist for businesses generating / accumulating different quantities on site, all are required to properly store, label, and dispose of hazardous waste.

Under US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) regulations,* fines for improperly disposing of hazardous wastes can be substantial.

epa, deq, dot.JPG
According to the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) 2009 Battery Safety Compliance Advisory,* penalties for violation of hazardous materials transportation regulations,* which include the transport of used or discarded batteries, can be up to $100,000 for a civil penalty and $500,000 and 10 years in jail for a criminal penalty.

In addition to regulatory fines, businesses that generate / accumulate hazardous waste, including universal waste, are liable. This means that they can be sued by governments or other entities not only for violations of hazardous waste rules but other harm as well, such as violation of the Clean Water Act or Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. These cases can take the form of civil or criminal prosecutions. For an extreme but real example, learn about Wal-Mart's $81 million settlement for improper hazardous and universal waste disposal.*

Return to Interactive Guide Homepage
What am I required to do by law?
  • Businesses and institutions are required by law to properly manage hazardous waste, including:
    • Rechargeable batteries, including those found in electronics
    • Lamps, including fluorescent light bulbs
    • Mercury-containing equipment
    • Pesticides
    • Electronics and computers, including monitors and servers
    • Fax machines and copiers
    • Cordless phones
  • The business owner is responsible for properly managing all toxic materials that are used and/or stored on site as well.  
  • As most companies use these materials in smaller quantities, they are subject to proper environmental management through Universal Waste Regulations* of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.  

What are the benefits of properly managing workplace toxics?
  • Proper management ensures a safe work place and protects the environment.
  • Businesses that do not comply risk liability and are likely to be out of compliance with hazardous waste regulations.
  • Improper disposal can expose workers, trash collectors, and the public to mercury and other toxic materials.
  • Understanding Universal Waste is a business opportunity. You can minimize hazard risk and liability while gaining competitive advantage by reassuring your customers that you are a safe and responsible business.

Where do I find out more about laws that apply to my business?

What is Household Hazardous Waste?

The USEPA defines Household Hazardous Waste (HHW)* as "household products that contain corrosive, toxic, ignitable, or reactive ingredients" including paints, cleaners, oils, batteries, and pesticides. Spent fluorescent lamps or electronics are considered forms of HHW as well.

*External link. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission does not author third party sites and their reference is for educational purposes only.