Retailers such as supermarkets, pharmacy chains and home improvement stores require the removal of classified hazardous waste items such as returned, damaged or overstocked items that contain flammable, corrosive, reactive and toxic ingredients. Often, these are everyday items most consumers wouldn’t consider hazardous—products such as batteries, light bulbs and nail polish, for instance. But proper removal of these items from the retail location on a regular basis ensures that retailers are in compliance with regulations established by state and federal agencies, such as those administered by the EPA.
However, these retailers face many challenges before the waste even makes its way on to the truck. Retailers are unique in that they generate multiple types of waste from the thousands of products they carry, unlike other hazardous waste generators such as industrial plants that may produce only one type of hazardous waste. Retail products labeled as hazardous waste must be categorized and stored separately, and retailers must also manage a waste stream volume that typically varies from month to month.
Transporting these types of materials carries inherent risks from a physical, environmental and compliance standpoint. While most of the waste from a retail setting is consumer product waste, many of these items are considered hazardous or dangerous to health on their own or can be very toxic if combined. For example, if simple ammonia and bleach come in contact, it can create hydrochloric acid, which is corrosive and emits highly toxic chloramine vapor. Improper packaging and storage of products such as fireworks, batteries, aerosols and flammable liquids can also cause safety problems.
Environmental risks are created when the improper packaging of dangerous goods results in fires or explosions causing over-road accidents and subsequent exposure to the environment. A simple traffic accident where retail hazardous waste materials are not properly stored can mean the waste could be expelled into the environment, exposing the transportation company and the retailer where the waste originated to civil or criminal penalties by regulators.
Due to the highly sensitive nature of retail hazardous waste, compliance risks should always be at the forefront for both the waste generator and the transporter regarding how that waste is sorted, packaged or transported according to state and federal regulations. In the last year, the media spotlight has focused on several large retailers that received multimillion-dollar fines for the improper disposal of hazardous waste, financial penalties that exhibit the serious consequences of compliance violations.
In light of the compliance needs and the many risks associated with transporting hazardous waste from retail locations, there are specialized companies that provide uniquely outfitted trucks and use highly trained technicians as drivers to ensure the safe packaging and delivery of retail hazardous waste.
For example, some the nation’s largest retailers use a company that has “smart” trucks outfitted with a laptop and software to inventory what they are transporting as they make pickups and classify the materials per EPA standards. These trucks also have onboard printing and can provide paper manifests that some retailers need to provide to regulators for compliance purposes. Essentially, these specialized trucks act as mobile offices in addition to hazardous waste transportation vehicles.
The trucks are also equipped with weights and measures equipment to accurately measure and record the hazardous waste they are transporting, also an element of carrying these types of wastes that is subject to inspection by regulatory enforcement. Temperature control within the trucks is required in many geographies to allow proper operation of the required equipment (computers, printers and barcode scanners) as well as stable conditions for the waste inside the trucks. Lastly, proper Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) must be present on all vehicles in order for the technicians to safely sort the waste.
Not Your Ordinary Driver
Drivers, or “technicians” as they can be more accurately called, are not only exceptional commercial truck drivers, they are specially trained and certified in hazardous waste collection best practices. They are also highly fluent in the technology required to operate the systems and equipment associated with retail hazardous waste collection. Because their job requires face-to-face interactions with retail representatives in-store, these drivers also are screened for exceptional customer service skills. In many respects, some retail hazardous waste management companies view their drivers as extensions of the company’s customer-centric philosophy, rather than employees whose only responsibility is to transport waste from the retail pickup site to a processing facility.
Because of the load, in many areas, trucks carrying retail hazardous waste are restricted on certain roadways. This increases transportation time since drivers must take longer routes.
Trucks carrying retail hazardous waste must be clearly marked which means they are easily identifiable to inspectors and have a greater chance of undergoing roadside inspections. If the vehicle is singled out for inspection, it’s critical that the waste on the truck matches the paperwork recorded by the technician during pickups. Finally, special insurance is required to haul this form of hazardous waste.
The niche market of transporting retail hazardous waste is expected to grow as more major retailers broaden their corporate sustainability efforts in response to public pressures to become “greener” companies. At the same time, state and federal agencies are consistently strategizing as they seek to enforce how retailers are handling their hazardous waste. The good news is retailers don’t have to play the guessing game regarding when and how they will be impacted by state and federal regulations governing the substances at their locations. Professional service partners are available to safely and legally manage, classify, dispose of and report on hazardous waste produced by a retailer.
By implementing a retail hazardous waste management program, retailers of all sizes can avoid regulatory scrutiny and fines, assure employee safety and support sustainability initiatives.