Long-awaited EPA Wiper Rule Handed Down

By Karen Bitz-McIntyre, Nonwovens Industry, Associate Editor | September 27, 2013

After decades of efforts, industrial wipes to be excluded from hazardous waste regulations.

In July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a long awaited rule modifying federal hazardous waste management regulations that apply to non-laundered and laundered wipes. The ruling better levels the playing field between the two wipers when it comes to disposing and reverses regulations enacted in the 1970s to govern the treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous waste in the U.S.

Under the final rule, both types of contaminated wipes will be given the opportunity to be excluded from the definition of hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). In order to be excluded, wipes will need to be managed in closed, labeled containers and may not contain free liquids when sent for either cleaning or disposal. In addition, facilities that use these wipes will be prohibited from storing wipes for longer than 180 days and will be required to meet certain record keeping requirements. EPA estimates these changes will result in a net savings of more than $20 million per year in avoided regulatory costs and other expected benefits, including pollution prevention, waste minimization and fire prevention benefits.

The completion of the rule, which was published in the Federal Register July 31, caps off decades of efforts by INDA, Association of the Nonwovens Industry, and others to review the waste regulations for wipes, which were recognized by EPA as being overly stringent, burdensome and confusing to the thousands of small businesses that relay on these products.

In fact, the nonwovens industry has been fighting this mistreatment since 1985 when Kimberly-Clark made a formal complaint. Since this time, the nonwovens wipes market has faced a series of ups and downs in leveling the playing field. In 2003, the EPA released a framework of conditions for dealing with industrial wiper disposal but it contained unfair labeling and grammage requirements. The next year, INDA partnered with the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association (SMART) to compel the EPA to conduct more risk analyses, which resulted in the 2009 publication of revisions to the requirements. These revisions lifted some of the more restrictive requirements and by the time the EPA held a town hall meeting in 2010, there were few challengers.

By 2011, it looked like the ruling was imminent but it got bogged down in bureaucracy and postponed by the presidential election and other delays until this summer.

“After so many years of hard work, we are extremely gratified that the EPA has finalized this common sense regulation that will reduce unnecessary regulatory burden and simplify the landscape for those who use and make wipes,” says INDA director of government affairs Jessica Franken. INDA urges state officials to implement it as expeditiously as possible.

The final rule will conditionally exempt single-use wipes in industrial settings from the waste regulations the definition of hazardous waste while laundered shop towels, which are subject to looser state regulations, will be brought under federal mandate.

“We believe this rule will enhance flexibility and increase the options available to the thousands of businesses that use these wipes and are hopeful it will create new opportunities for nonwoven wipes,” says INDA president Dave Rousse.

Additionally, they are no less expensive. Industry analyses shows that the hidden costs of laundered rags—including rental fees, delivery and fuel charges and replacement and disposal—make them about 18-28 cents per use while the average cost of a single-use wipe is about 16 cents.

To date, growth in the industrial wipes market has lagged behind the consumer wipes market and much of this can largely be blamed on regulatory issues. Currently, industrial wipes comprise only about 38% of the total wipes market in North America and experts expect this share could grow as these burdens are lifted. As growth in consumer wipes is impacted by market maturity and penetration, new markets, like industrial ones, will be important moving forward.
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