On July 31, 2013, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Solvent-Contaminated Wipes final rule that clarifies how companies must handle disposable and reusable solvent-contaminated industrial wipes. This change is affecting many businesses, from auto repair shops to large manufacturing facilities, by stipulating requirements for handling solvent-contaminated wipes in order to avoid hazardous waste rules, which would otherwise apply. While significantly easier than the hazardous waste requirements, the new rule still imposes a high level of management in handling industrial wipes.
The industrial wipes issue arose from the draconian nature of EPA hazardous waste rules under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Most industrial and commercial facilities use paper or cloth towels to clean parts, products or equipment. However, if the facility uses the wipes to apply cleaning solutions that can be characterized as hazardous waste when disposed (which accounts for many industrial solvents and other commercial cleaning products), the wipes themselves become hazardous waste. Industry and the EPA have recognized this problem for many years, but the Agency originally deferred this issue to state regulators, which led to a patchwork of requirements. In 2002, the EPA finally issued the first set of proposed rules, and the most recent final rule essentially mirrors the original proposal.