By Jeryl L. Olson and Philip L. Comella

After more than 10 years of negotiations with U.S. EPA, industry can claim a victory in exempting from full RCRA regulation, solvent-contaminated industrial wipes used to clean equipment or spills.

The victory comes in the form of a Final Rule issued by EPA on July 22, 2013 which provides an exclusion from RCRA for solvent-contaminated industrial wipes that are managed in certain ways. The new rule affects  wipes destined for offsite disposal  or burning (disposal wipes),  as well as wipes sent for cleaning or drycleaning prior to reuse (reusable wipes).  Disposal wipes and reusable wipes, however, are treated somewhat differently under the new rule.  It is important to note that the exemption does not  apply to disposal wipes contaminated with trichloroethyene,  which continue to be RCRA-regulated hazardous wastes.  

The new exclusion takes two forms.  Solvent-contaminated reusable wipes will be exempted under the solid waste exclusion of 40 CFR section 261.4(a)(26), while solvent contaminated disposal wipes will be excluded under the hazardous waste exclusion of 40 CFR section 261.4(b)(18).  In effect this means that the reusable wipes never enter the RCRA program, where disposal wipes remain subject to rules governing solid, though not hazardous wastes.  The Rule applies to reusable and disposal wipes contaminated with the following solvents:








Ethyl acetate

Ethyl benzene

2 Ethoxyethanol

Isobutyl alcohol


Methyl ethyl ketone

Methyl isobutyl ketone

Methylene chloride




Trichloroethylene (with respect to reusable wipes only); and


For wipes to be excluded under the solid waste or hazardous waste definitions they must meet container storage, labeling, accumulation, and recordkeeping and reporting standards. With respect to container storage, wipes must be handled in non-leaking closed containers that can  contain any free liquids which might be generated while the wipes are stored or transported for cleaning .  (Notwithstanding  these containers must be capable of containing free liquids,  containers for wipes sent for cleaning or disposal may not actually have any free liquid during storage or transport;  and the wipes must meet the paint filter test. See 40 CFR section 260.10).  Containers must be labeled “Excluded Solvent Contaminated Wipes”, and the accumulation standards provide that wipes must be sent offsite for cleaning or disposal within 180 days of the start of accumulation.

Not surprisingly, recordkeeping requirements must be met, such as documentation of the name and address of the laundry, drycleaner, landfill or combustor to which the wipes are sent, proof that the generator is meeting the 180-day limit for storage prior to disposal or cleaning,  and the generator must describe how it is going to meet the condition that there be no free liquids in thecontainer. Finally, to the extent free liquids are removed from wipes prior to containerization, or from the wipes container itself prior to transport, such free liquids must be managed as hazardous waste.

Only certain facilities are eligible to handle exempt contaminated wipes, and a generator is not entitled to either the solid or hazardous Waste exclusion unless the generator sends its wipes to an acceptable facility.  Reusable wipes must go only to a laundry or drycleaner whose wastewater discharge is regulated under the Clean Water Act Sections 301 and 402  (i.e. is subject to effluent limitations and NPDES provisions)  or Section 307 (is subject to pretreatment standards).  Disposal wipes must go to: (1) a combustor regulated under Clean Air Act § 129 (the NSPS for solid waste combustion) (2) a hazardous waste combustor, boiler, or industrial furnace regulated under RCRA; or (3) a municipal solid waste landfill (MSWL) regulated under  40 CFR Part 258 (MSWL Standards) or hazardous waste landfill regulated under 40 CFR Parts 264 and 265 (Interim status and Part B-permitted facility standards).

The Final Rule, the first ever signed by new Administrator Gina McCarthy, was published in the Federal Register on July 31, 2013. 78 FR 46448 (July 31, 2013).