Following a long-awaited settlement agreement with environmental advocates earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been tasked with determining whether PVC should be regulated as a hazardous waste. PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is one of the most commonly used plastic polymers in the world. Industry estimates indicate that upwards of 70 percent of all PVC produced is used for building and construction, where it is commonly found in windows, pipes, ductwork, roofing, flooring and cables.
Regulation of discarded PVC materials as hazardous waste would impose new regulatory requirements on contractors, building owners and property managers who otherwise typically have little reason to worry about hazardous-waste rules. At an initial level, a material is not a hazardous waste until it is first a “waste.” A material is only a waste once discarded or abandoned, although the regulatory structure becomes more complex for materials that are recycled or reused in some manner. Because the regulations are only triggered once a material becomes a waste, PVC materials that are in inventory and/or being used would not be subject to hazardous-waste regulations. However, PVC materials that are left over from a project and not subject to being reused or used elsewhere, such as cut-off scraps and damaged pieces, would be considered waste, and therefore could be considered hazardous waste if EPA decides to regulate PVC.
The basic elements of hazardous-waste regulations govern how hazardous waste materials are handled, stored and disposed. Under the regulations, employees that handle hazardous waste are required to be trained, and facilities where hazardous waste is generated or stored are subject to contingency planning requirements. Hazardous wastes can only be stored in designated storage areas, are subject to labeling requirements and can only remain in storage for set periods of time before they have to be disposed (the length of time depends on how much hazardous waste is created by the generator). Hazardous waste manifests are required for the shipment of hazardous wastes, and generators of hazardous waste are required to have an ID number from EPA.
Regulation of PVC waste as hazardous waste presents unique issues because of the pervasive use of PVC in building materials. It would affect a vast number of companies, projects and activities that do not otherwise trigger hazardous-waste regulations. Many of the affected parties will not have familiarity with the hazardous-waste program or the nuances necessary to achieve and maintain compliance. Further, such regulations will impact job sites where the property in question is not owned by the contractor generating the PVC waste and where such contractor may have limited control over activities on, and access to, the property.
It is expected that EPA will issue a tentative decision on classifying the material as hazardous waste by Jan. 20, 2023, and a final decision by April 12, 2024.