Managing Hazardous Waste

We strengthen regulations and streamline waste management

Retail Industry

Surplus Household Consumer Products and Wastes – Report to the Legislature

Management of Wastes from Retail Operations in California

Similar to wastes generated by manufacturing and industrial processes, wastes generated by retail companies that sell consumer products may also be subject to federal and California hazardous waste laws and regulations. Surplus products, such as unsold over-the-counter medicines, seasonal products or products in outdated packaging, that are no longer available for sale are oftentimes discarded. If these wastes possess any characteristics of hazardous wastes, they are subject to the regulations that govern how hazardous wastes are generated, transported, and treated, stored or disposed.

Retail companies, typically more familiar with the handling and sale of products, are becoming aware of their hazardous waste management responsibilities. Within the past 10 years, several large retail companies in California were the subject of enforcement actions for illegally disposing of hazardous waste by discarding some retail products in their solid waste dumpsters or pouring them down the drain. In these cases employees were disposing common consumer products, such as spent batteries, out-of-date over-the-counter medications, bleaches, detergents, photo processing chemicals, fluorescent tubes, electronic devices, paints, ignitable liquids and aerosol cans. The violations were resolved through multi-million dollar statewide settlements, which included commitments by those retailers to work with the Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) to better understand their hazardous waste management responsibilities and what they must do to comply.

2013 Retail Waste Workgroup

In 2013, DTSC began working with the retail industry and other interested stakeholders to form a Retail Waste Workgroup. The group met several times to discuss California’s hazardous waste regulatory requirements, challenges faced by the retail industry in complying with hazardous waste laws and California’s Medical Waste Management Act, making accurate hazardous waste determinations and properly managing unsold retail consumer products. DTSC and the retail industry’s efforts through this informal Workgroup led to a better understanding and appreciation of the issues and challenges faced by the retail industry.

Senate Bill (SB) 423 (Bates, ch. 771, Stats. 2016)(SB 423)

SB 423 was sponsored by the California Retailers Association. Introduced in 2015, the bill language was informed by the dialogue with DTSC and others on the Workgroup. SB 423 proposed to change hazardous waste law to allow the shipment of unsold retail products to reverse distribution companies, where they could be assessed and arrangements made for resale, donation, or disposal of the unsold products. The bill would also have allowed over-the-counter pharmaceuticals to be characterized and managed under hazardous waste requirements, rather than as a medical waste. In the time available, the bill’s sponsor and author could not reach resolution on a number of important but complex aspects of the bill, so later in 2016 they amended the bill to require DTSC to convene a Retail Waste Working Group to discuss the issues and make recommendations for statutory or regulatory changes. The bill requires the group report its findings and recommendations by June 1, 2017.

Surplus Household Consumer Products and Wastes – Report to the Legislature

SB 423 Retail Waste Working Group

The Retail Waste Working Group and it’s steering committee, formed under SB 423, is comprised of representatives of large retailers, small retailers, district attorneys, certified unified program agencies, non-government organizations, local governments, other relevant state agencies as determined by DTSC (such as the California Department of Public Health, and the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery), manufacturers, reverse distributors, and other interested stakeholders. The group as mandated by SB 423 is similar to the Workgroup that DTSC convened in 2013.  However, it is different in several respects. The informal Workgroup was formed primarily to facilitate the sharing of information and to open lines of communication between DTSC and other regulatory agencies and the retail industry. The Working Group has specific mandates, goals and deadlines established. According to SB 423, the Retail Waste Working Group is to:

  • Make findings and recommendations on regulatory and statutory requirements that may be considered confusing or may need clarification or specification when applied to the overall management by manufacturer, distributor, supplier, vendor, retail, and reverse logistics facilities of surplus household consumer products, including products that can be considered hazardous waste or pharmaceutical waste once a waste determination is made.
  • Make findings and recommendations on statutory or regulatory recommendations to facilitate and increase the donation, liquidation, and sale of surplus household consumer products, and waste reduction opportunities for those products, and to clarify waste management requirements to encourage the management of surplus household consumer products by manufacturer, distributor, supplier, vendor, retail, and reverse logistics facilities in a manner that is protective of public health and the environment.

The following links provide information related to the more recent Retail Waste Working Group:

United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S.EPA) Retail Strategy

Since 2008, U.S.EPA has also been engaged with the retail industry at the national level. On September 12, 2016, U.S. EPA, as a result of its work with the industry and information it had gathered, released its “Strategy for Addressing the Retail Sector under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s Regulatory Framework.” 

On August 21, 2019, EPA’s new standards for handling hazardous waste pharmaceuticals went into effect. See DTSC’s Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals and Amendment to the P075 Listing for Nicotine Rule web page for additional information on the federal rule.

What is a Hazardous Waste?