How to Classify and Dispose of Empty 55 Gallon Drums and Barrels

Sooner or later, most manufacturers and related businesses begin to accumulate empty 55 gallon drums, or other waste containers.  These empty barrels typically contained oil, fuel or other chemicals or raw materials prior to being emptied.

Regardless of the source, they often begin to pile up at the facility causing an eyesore and environmental hazard, forcing the company to take action to dispose of them.

But how do you do this in a way that meets EPA and state environmental laws?

Beware of Recycling and Feeder Companies

Before getting into how to properly classify and dispose of these empty containers, a quick word of caution:  Throughout my career, I’ve run into many companies who make the mistake of giving their empty drums to a “recycler” or a company who “turns them into feeders.”

The problem with this approach is that the drums often aren’t actually “empty” meaning that they still contain chemical residues, which are often hazardous.

These recycling and feeder companies almost never properly manage these residues and either illegally rinse them out, resulting in contaminated rinse water that then runs off the property to pollute the environment, or the residue is left in the container causing potential harm to the end user (who wants to buy a feeder contaminated with hazardous residue?).

Or worse, rather than properly managing or disposing of the drums, they begin to illegally accumulate the containers on their own site until it becomes a problem…..

I have seen illegal rinsing operations with my own eyes at several of these “recycling” locations and witnessed another facility who ended up accumulating so many empty 55 gal drums and tote tanks over the years, that they literally stacked up so high that someone driving by on the freeway finally complained to the EPA who ended up designating it a Superfund Site!

Once that happened, EPA began reviewing records to determine which companies had given their containers to the site, and forced each of them to help pay for the cleanup costs.  It’s important to understand that Federal Laws mandate “cradle to grave” responsibility for properly disposing of hazardous wastes and empty containers.  Companies who mismanage these responsibilities, for example by illegally disposing of empty containers, often face major and costly repercussions.

Having said all of that, it is possible to recycle these containers, but only if you’re able to vet the recycling company to ensure that they’re complying with all regulations, AND confirming that all containers meet the following criteria:

• The residue was completely removed either by triple rinsing with a solvent capable of removing the waste, by hydro blasting, or by other methods. (and rinse water is properly treated or disposed of)

• The container is not regulated under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, 40 CFR Part 165.

• The generator maintains documentation, according to 30 TAC 335.513 Documentation Required, that demonstrates the container is being recycled; and

• The recycling activity involves shredding, dismantling, scrapping, melting, or other method that renders the container unusable.

Properly Classifying & Disposing of Empty Containers

Now that we’ve talked about what not to do with your empty barrels and containers, let’s discuss the proper course of action.

Let’s start by defining what “RCRA empty” means, which is the first step in the process.

Here is TCEQ’s definition:

Per 30 TAC 335.41(f), 40 CFR 261.7
(RCRA is the acronym for Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.)
A container is considered RCRA empty according to this description: After
you have removed the contents using common practices (pouring, pumping,
and aspirating) and it can’t be emptied any further, the container holds less
than one inch (2.5 centimeters) of residue. Containers that stored hazardous
waste but do not meet the RCRA-empty definition are considered hazardous

In summary, if the container has > 1″ of residue, and the residue is hazardous, then the container is actually NOT considered empty and is considered a hazardous waste.

Even if the residue is non-hazardous and < 1″, it still must be managed as an “industrial waste” and disposed of properly.

Once you’ve determine if your containers are actually “RCRA empty” then you can move on to the next step…

Now let’s talk about how to properly classify and dispose of RCRA empty drums and containers.

Assuming the container meets RCRA empty standards, as described above, a common practice is to classify the containers as Class 1 industrial waste.

This is a conservative and common approach and allows the company to dispose of the containers in a cost-effective permitted Class 1 landfill.

Here are the regulations for assigning Class 1 status to the containers;

30 TAC 335.508 (2), 40 CFR 302 Yes, RCRA-empty containers from an industrial generator must be classified as a Class 1 industrial solid waste if they previously stored a:

  • hazardous substance, · hazardous waste, · Class 1 industrial solid waste, or · material that would be classified as a hazardous or Class 1 industrial solid waste if disposed.

Class 1 classification also requires the following additional compliance steps:

  • Generator must complete a waste determination for RCRA empty containers
  • Waste shipments must be documented on an appropriate BOL or Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest
  • Waste must be shipped to an approved and permitted Class 1 landfill

Another option is to classify the containers as Class 2 waste, which will trigger less regulations and is slightly less expensive to dispose of.

Here are Class 2 requirements:

  • The container capacity is 5 gallons or less; or
  • The container previously stored a Class 2 industrial solid waste; or
  • The container is an aerosol can that was depleted of its contents, such that the inner pressure of the can equals the atmospheric pressure, and the minimal residue remains in the can; or
  • The container capacity is more than 5 gallons and meets both of the following conditions:

– The residue is completely removed either by triple rinsing with a solvent capable of removing the waste, by hydro-blasting, or by other methods.

– The container was crushed, punctured, or subjected to other mechanical treatment that renders it unusable.

More Hazardous Waste Management Resources can be found here:

Learn more about how to manage TX hazardous waste generator rules and regulations and risks here.

Learn more about the Top 10 Hazardous Waste Violations in Texas

Learn more about hour Hazardous Waste Management Services

Have Questions About How To Properly Dispose of Your Hazardous Wastes?

CALL 512-457-0374  or Click Here To Schedule Your Free Consultation