Retail industry’s handling of hazardous waste to receive greater scrutiny in 2014

If the retail industry is going to improve its capacity for hazardous waste management, it is going to have to focus on how to better deal with the near-constant change that it faces. That's the view of Mike Rozembajgier, vice-president of Stericycle ExpertSOLUTIONS, who writes in Environmental Leader that there are many upcoming trends in 2014 that will define how the industry handles its waste—and how observers will scrutinize its actions.

First, Rozembajgier writes, there is the always pressing issue of changing regulations. On the local, state and federal level, the lists of materials that are defined as hazardous by law change all the time, and keeping track of them is a constant challenge.

There are other ways in which regulations are affecting the practice of waste management. Rozembajgier cites the Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act, which President Obama signed in 2012. This law directs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to transfer all of its paper records to a digital platform by 2015. Though this will not directly affect the businesses responsible for managing waste, it is certainly possible that it will change how the agency supervises waste management. For example, the article states that the new initiative is supposed to remove inefficiencies in record keeping. In response, businesses will have to make sure that their own compliance reporting is up to the required standard.

Sustainability set to become more important

Rozembajgier notes that retailers once observed a simple system: they recycled what they could and hired contractors to clear away the rest, including hazardous waste. That may be changing now that the EPA is putting a much greater emphasis on sustainability. This begins with better inventory management.

"The EPA requires that retailers understand which of their wastes are hazardous so that the material can be properly managed, reported, tracked and disposed," he writes. New regulations require that any product that cannot be sold be kept separate from those that can, and then identified to determine whether it can be reused or must be disposed. If it is determined that the product is waste, it must then be classified as flammable, a corrosive acid, a corrosive base, a reactive or an oxidizer, a universal non-aerosol or a toxic material.

In order to comply with these requirements, retailers will have to improve their inventory tracking systems to make sure they can properly classify all of these materials. Rozembajgier suggests that this data will ultimately be beneficial to the businesses by making it easier for them to adjust their supplies in accordance with consumer demand.

He also argues that sustainability will continue to be important to the retail industry. As such, many businesses could benefit by partnering with an environmental consulting firm in order to better manage their liabilities, rein in costs and carefully comply with federal and local regulations.