Managing Hazardous Waste

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Onsite Tiered Permitting: Changes in Regulation of Silver Wastes [as established by Senate Bill (SB) 2111] Fact Sheet

Revised January 2000*

This fact sheet summarizes upcoming changes in regulatory requirements for wastes that are hazardous wastes solely due to the presence of silver (“silver-only” hazardous wastes). As a result of changes mandated by SB 2111 (Costa), Chapter 309, Statutes of 1998, many waste treatment activities for “silver-only” hazardous waste will not be regulated after January 1, 1999. The fact sheet primarily addresses onsite generation and treatment of “silver-only” hazardous wastes. For information related to offsite facilities, please contact the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) (see page 5 for where to contact DTSC). This fact sheet supersedes the previous fact sheet dated August 1999 and is effective from January 2000 to December 2003, unless extended or rescinded.


SB 2111 mandates that, effective January 1, 1999, “silver-only” hazardous wastes are to be regulated only to the extent they are regulated under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). This change applies to the generation, transportation, and treatment of “silver-only” hazardous wastes. Onsite treatment of photoimaging solutions and wastewaters will no longer be subject to Tiered Permitting authorization requirements. Generators of “silver-only” wastes continue to be considered hazardous waste generators, but they may be eligible for reduced management and transportation requirements. The major provisions of the bill are codified in section 25143.13 of the California Health and Safety Code (HSC) (attached). Applicable RCRA regulations [found in Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations (40 CFR), beginning with Part 260] will apply in California for “silver-only” hazardous wastes until existing regulations are amended. (Since applicable federal regulations will apply until DTSC can amend State regulations, only federal regulatory citations are given here.)

Effective Dates

SB 2111 was signed into law on August 17, 1998 as Chapter 309 of the Statutes of 1998. The provisions of the bill went into effect on January 1, 1999.


Most of the currently regulated “silver-only” hazardous wastes are generated by the photoprocessing, printing, and dental/medical clinical industries. (Other industries, such as electroplating and electronics, also generate large quantities of silver-bearing wastes but these wastes are typically hazardous for other reasons, in addition to their silver content.) “Silver-only” wastestreams are usually generated in solution form and are treated onsite, or shipped offsite for treatment, to extract the silver. In cases where the solutions are treated onsite, the treated effluent is commonly discharged to a sewer operated by a Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) and the silver-rich treatment residue or sludge is sent offsite for reclamation.

Businesses treating their own wastes onsite are currently regulated under DTSC’s Tiered Permitting program, under the Permit by Rule (PBR), Conditional Authorization (CA), or Conditional Exemption (CE) authorization tiers. Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs) are responsible for inspection and enforcement at generator sites and PBR, CA, and CE facilities. CUPAs also process CA, CE and PBR notifications and closures, whereas DTSC processes CA, CE, and PBR notifications and closures in non-CUPA jurisdictions. Most offsite silver recovery facilities are currently regulated by DTSC under the Standardized Permit tier.

Who is Affected by Changes?

  • Businesses that generate “silver-only” hazardous wastes, such as:
    • Photoprocessors (includes photography, printing, and X-ray development wastes):
      • Dental offices/clinics
      • Hospitals
      • Medical professional offices/clinics
      • Chiropractic offices
      • Veterinary hospitals/clinics
      • Police
      • Schools with industrial labs
      • Government agencies
      • Microfilm labs
      • Motion picture labs
      • Minilabs/One-hour photo shops
      • Professional/photofinishers
      • Printer, graphic arts, commercial services labs
    • Jewelers and jewelry manufacturers
    • Electrical and electronics
  • Businesses that transport “silver-only” hazardous wastes.
  • Businesses that reclaim metals from “silver-only” hazardous waste.
  • Environmental regulatory agencies.

What are some of the Important Points to Consider?

  • Requirements established under laws other than California’s Hazardous Waste Control Law are not affected by the provisions of SB 2111. Examples of requirements not affected include POTW pretreatment requirements for discharges to the sewer, as well as waste discharge requirements established under the federal Clean Water Act or California’s Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.
  • “Silver-only” hazardous wastes will be identified as hazardous due to their silver content according to the federal RCRA regulatory level of 5 milligrams/liter (mg/l), using the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) [40 CFR 261.24].
  • If the waste is identified as hazardous for any other reason (i.e., corrosivity, reactivity, ignitability, or listed as hazardous) or constituent (i.e., toxicity characteristic other than silver), using the California hazardous waste criteria, then the waste remains subject to California hazardous waste requirements.
  • Changes apply exclusively to wastes that are hazardous for silver only. Wastes that are hazardous for constituents other than silver are not included. Examples of wastes not included are:
    • RCRA listed wastes, such as electroplating wastewater treatment sludges (F006 listed waste);
    • dental amalgam (if it contains mercury or any other metal that would cause it to exhibit a characteristic of hazardous waste); and
    • corrosive cleaning/etching solution wastes (generally hazardous due to corrosivity, as well as other metals).
  • Treatment of photoimaging solutions and wastewaters to remove silver will be regulated only to the extent it is regulated under RCRA, and not require California Tiered Permitting authorization. Any other treatment of “silver-only” RCRA hazardous waste remains subject to regulation under California hazardous waste laws and may require treatment authorization.
  • Businesses generating no more than 100 kilograms (approximately 27 gallons) per month exclusively of “silver-only” hazardous waste may be exempt from most generator requirements as Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generators (CESQGs) [40 CFR 261.5].
  • Although subject to reduced waste management requirements, CESQGs must:
    • determine whether their waste is “silver-only” hazardous or not using tests or knowledge of the waste [40 CFR 261.5(g)(1)];
    • not accumulate onsite more than 1000 kilograms of waste at any time [40 CFR 261.5(g)(2)].
    • ensure that their “silver-only” hazardous waste is either recycled (reclaimed) or disposed at a facility that is permitted or otherwise authorized to manage that hazardous waste [40 CFR 261.5(g)(3)].
  • Businesses with a “zero waste count” for purposes of determining their generator category [40 CFR 261.5(c)(2)] are still considered hazardous waste generators (as CESQGs) because they remain subject to some RCRA regulatory requirements and meet the RCRA definition of “generator”.
  • Sludges generated by the treatment of silver-rich solutions and wastewaters, which are hazardous only for their silver content, are not considered solid waste, and therefore not hazardous waste, when reclaimed [40 CFR 261.2(c)(3)].
  • Businesses sending silver sludges for reclamation must be able to provide documentation that the sludges are being reclaimed [40 CFR 261.2(f)]. (Examples of acceptable documentation include contracts with refiners and/or receipts from the sludge transporter for shipments of sludge to a refiner.)
  • Silver metal scraps that are recycled will not be subject to regulation as hazardous wastes [40 CFR 261.4(a)(13) and 40 CFR 261.6(a) (3)(ii)].
  • Manifests are required for offsite shipments of “silver-only” hazardous wastes, unless the generator is a CESQG, in which case no manifest is required. Manifests are also not required for characteristically hazardous sludges that are reclaimed. These sludges are excluded from being considered a solid and a hazardous waste and are therefore not regulated under RCRA.
  • Except for the CESQG requirements, most of the exclusions and exemptions from regulation require that “silver-only” hazardous waste be reclaimed. “Silver-only” hazardous wastes that are not reclaimed may be subject to full regulation under RCRA.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the passage of SB 2111 mean that silver is no longer regulated as a hazardous waste?

No. Most wastes containing silver above the regulatory threshold will continue to be regulated as hazardous wastes. But “silver-only” hazardous wastes will only be regulated to the extent that they are regulated under the federal RCRA.

Although many of the “silver-only” hazardous wastes will qualify for the reduced management requirements associated with the federal CESQG category or precious metals recovery, the wastes must still be handled in accordance with all applicable requirements. For example, silver-bearing photoprocessing solutions and wastewaters that are discharged to the sewer must comply with POTW discharge limits.

I am currently operating under the onsite tiers of the Tiered Permitting program and treat wastes that are “silver-only” hazardous wastes. What should I do?

If you are treating “silver-only” RCRA-exempt wastestreams or treating photoimaging solutions and wastewaters to remove silver, and are currently operating under the CA, CE, or PBR tiers, you should notify your CUPA in writing that, as of January 1, 1999, your treatment activity is exempt from Tiered Permitting requirements.

Note: For those facilities located in non-CUPA jurisdictions, notifications should be sent to DTSC.

DTSC and the CUPAs are requesting letters from facilities operating under the onsite tiers of the Tiered Permitting program in order to update facility files. While the requested letter is not mandated by SB 2111, facilities are urged to provide the written notification to assure proper identification of regulatory status.

What if only a portion of the hazardous wastes I generate are hazardous solely due to their silver content?

You should notify your CUPA of the portion of the wastes you treat that are hazardous for silver only and are exempt from Tiered Permitting regulation as of January 1, 1999. If your authorized treatment unit treats both “silver-only” and non-silver hazardous wastestreams, you will continue to need authorization under the Tiered Permitting program for the nonsilver treatment activity. However, you should still notify your CUPA of the portion of your wastes which are “silver-only” and exempt as of January 1, 1999, because you may be able to operate under a lower tier based on the change in volume of regulated wastestreams.

Do I need to complete any closure activities (such as unit decontamination or certification that a unit has been closed) for any “silver-only” onsite treatment units or wastestreams that are exempt from Tiered Permitting effective January 1, 1999?

No. Treatment activities regulated under the provisions of SB 2111 are exempt from Tiered Permitting requirements, including closure requirements, as of January 1, 1999. You will be able to continue operating without going through closure. However, as stated above, you should notify your CUPA that your treatment unit is exempt pursuant to SB 2111 provisions.

Do I need a letter from my CUPA or DTSC in order to operate under the SB 2111 provisions?

No. However, you should still notify your CUPA to assure proper identification of your regulatory status.

Selected Definitions

  • Generator: Any person, by site, whose act or process produces hazardous waste identified or listed in 40 CFR Part 261 or whose act first causes a hazardous waste to become subject to regulation [40 CFR 261.10].
  • By-Product: A material that is not one of the primary products of a production process and is not solely or separately produced by the production process [40 CFR 261.1(c)(3)]. Examples of by-products are process residues, such as slags or distillation column bottoms.
  • Sludge: A solid, semi-solid, or liquid waste generated from a wastewater treatment system or pollution control process [40 CFR 260.10]. (The treated effluent generated in the process is not included in the definition of sludge.) Examples of sludge include sludge generated by silver recovery from photoprocessing solutions using metallic replacement cartridges or electrolysis.
  • Commercial Chemical Product: This term refers to both listed and characteristically hazardous chemical substances manufactured or formulated for commercial use [40 CFR 261.33]. The term generally includes commercial chemical products and their intermediates, off-specification species, spill residues, and container residues. The term does not include manufacturing process wastes. Examples of commercial chemical products include silver nitrate and silver chloride chemical products used in photographic processes.
  • Scrap Metal: Bits and pieces of metal parts or metal pieces that may be combined together with bolts or soldering, which when worn or unnecessary can be recycled [40 CFR 261.1(c)(6)]. Examples of scrap metal are silver metal shavings from jewelry manufacturing and metal wire pieces. “Excluded scrap metal” is processed scrap metal and unprocessed turnings, cuttings, punchings, and borings generated by steel mills, foundries, refineries, and metal working/fabrication industries [40 CFR 261.1(c)(9)].
  • Speculative Accumulation: A material is accumulated speculatively if it is accumulated before being recycled. A material is not accumulated speculatively if it can be shown that the material is potentially recyclable, that there is a feasible means for recycling the material, and that 75 percent of the material accumulated on the first of January of any given year is recycled during the same calendar year [40 CFR 261.1(c)(8)].

Additional Sources of Information & Contacts

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), Office of Solid Waste provides a variety of mechanisms for accessing information about management of hazardous waste. To talk with a RCRA regulatory specialist about a specific issue or to order publications, call the U.S. EPA RCRA Hotline at (800) 424-9346, Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Eastern time. Information is also available
on U.S. EPA’s RCRA (opens new window) web page.

Copies of the CFR are generally available for review at libraries or environmental regulatory agencies. For information on purchasing copies, call the Government Printing Office, Customer Service, at (202) 512-1803.

For more information, you can contact the DTSC office nearest you, or call our Regulatory Assistance Officers at:

Toll-Free in CA: 800-728-6942 or 800 72-TOXIC
Outside CA: 916-324-2439

For a list of all DTSC offices, go to our Office Address and Phone Numbers web page.


This fact sheet does not replace or supersede relevant statutes and regulations. The information contained in this fact sheet is based upon the statutes and regulations in effect as of the date of the fact sheet. Interested parties should keep apprised of subsequent changes to relevant statutes and regulations.