Hazardous Waste


Waste Import Export Tracking System. EPA transitioned to a new system for processing hazardous waste export and import notices on January 18th, 2022 called RCRAInfo WIETS (Waste Import Export Tracking System). The new electronic system will give U.S. exporters and U.S. importers the ability to create notices and submit them to EPA.

Hazardous wastes are sometimes shipped to or from other countries for treatment, disposal, or recycling. For the United States, the vast majority of this waste trade occurs with Canada and Mexico, but the U.S. also engages in hazardous waste trade with other countries. Importers and exporters of hazardous wastes must comply with applicable U.S. laws and regulations, which include regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

International Requirements that Apply to the United States for International Trade in Hazardous Wastes

The U.S. government is currently a party to several international agreements concerning international trade in hazardous wastes. They are:

  • an agreement among the 29 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) governing trade in recyclable wastes
  • U.S./Canada and U.S./Mexico bilateral agreements
  • U.S. Malaysia and U.S./Costa Rica import bilateral agreements

These agreements are legally binding on the governments that are party to them, but not on the regulated community. Rather, the regulated community is subject to the federal regulations that implement these agreements. Although not identical, these agreements share the basic principles of notification to the government of the exporting country, government-to government notification to the importing government, and the consent of the importing government for exports and imports of hazardous wastes.

Under this approach, the exporting country provides notice to the importing, and in some cases the transit country(s) about a proposed export of hazardous waste. The importing country (and transit country) then has the opportunity to consent or object to the proposed shipment. The exporting country may not allow the export to proceed until the importing country consents to it. Exporters of routine shipments to the same foreign destination may provide one notification covering as long as twelve months. In such cases, the importing country (and transit country) usually provides consent covering the same period of time.

Under the international agreements to which the U.S. is party, each country designates an agency to control its international trade in hazardous waste. For the U.S., it is EPA:

  • EPA examines export notifications and forwards them to the importing and transit countries. For exports to Mexico, the Department of State serves as the official diplomatic channel between the two countries.
  • EPA provides U.S. consent or objection to proposed hazardous waste imports. In performing this duty, EPA relies on the recommendations of its regional offices on whether to consent or object, because these offices have access to permit and inspection information about the receiving facilities which allows them to better evaluate a facility's ability to property handle a specific hazardous waste shipment.

Waste Applicability

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) establishes regulations for all handlers of hazardous waste, from those persons that first produce the waste or first subject the waste to regulation to those persons that treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste.  These regulations include the generator requirements in Part 262, the standards for transporting hazardous waste in Part 263, and the general operating conditions, unit standards, and permitting requirements for treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs) in Parts 264, 265, and 270.  Importers and exporters of hazardous waste also have special requirements under the RCRA program. These regulatory requirements vary depending on the type of waste managed, the foreign country receiving or shipping the waste, and the manner in which the waste will be managed.  Much like the hazardous waste identification process, there are a series of questions importers and exporters must answer to determine their applicable regulatory requirements.  The RCRA import and export regulations apply only when the following two statements are true. 

I. The waste must be a hazardous waste under RCRA

Importers and exporters must know if the waste they handle is hazardous under RCRA. If the waste is not a hazardous waste or is exempt from regulation, the RCRA import and export regulations do not apply.  Therefore, RCRA import or export regulations do not apply to the following materials:

  1. Materials that are not defined as solid wastes in 261.2
  2. Materials that are not defined as hazardous waste in 261.3
  3. Materials that are specifically excluded from the definition of solid and  hazardous waste in 261.4

As an example of item 3, suppose a U.S. generator produces a characteristic sludge that will be reclaimed in Canada.  In this case, the generator need not comply with the export requirements because the sludge is not a solid waste.  (See Table 1 earlier in this Chapter.)  RCRA excludes characteristic sludges that are reclaimed from the definition of solid waste in 261.2, whether the reclamation occurs within or outside of the United States.  EPA discusses this concept in the Federal Register from April 12, 1996:

"The Agency wishes to point out that a relatively narrow set of hazardous secondary materials are not defined as solid wastes and, therefore, are not hazardous wastes when recycled in a particular manner (e.g., listed commercial chemical products that are to be reclaimed).  Thus, these materials would not be subject to the export requirements.  Exporters of such materials, nevertheless, should keep in mind that they have the burden of proof to show that such materials are to be recycled in a manner bringing them outside the scope of solid waste (61 FR 16290, 16307; April 12, 1996)."

In a different scenario, suppose a U.S. generator produces a listed hazardous waste that is destined for a laboratory in Germany.  The laboratory will conduct a treatability study on this waste and the U.S. generator will comply with all applicable requirements for handling and shipping the samples in 261.4(e).  Is the generator required to comply with the export regulations?  Section 261.4(e) exempts generators and sample collectors from the RCRA regulations provided that the generator complies with the conditions listed in this section.  Therefore, the U.S. generator shipping the sample to Germany under the conditions in '261.4(e) need not comply with the export requirements (Memo, Lowrance to Seeger; May 24, 1992).

II. The waste must be subject to Federal RCRA manifesting procedures or to Federal (or State equivalent) universal waste management standards under Part 273.

In order for the import or export regulations to apply, materials must be a hazardous waste under RCRA and must be subject to manifesting.  Note that although shipments of universal wastes do not require a hazardous waste manifest, they are still subject to applicable import and export requirements.  (Currently, the Federal universal wastes include hazardous batteries, thermostats, pesticides, and lamps.)

Typically, generators must prepare a hazardous waste manifest to accompany shipments of hazardous waste during transportation and delivery to a facility designated on the manifest.  However, a subset of hazardous wastes are not subject to manifesting. EPA provides examples of hazardous wastes that are not subject to the import or export requirements because shipments of these wastes do not require a manifest.

"Thus, exports of any hazardous wastes that are exempt from the manifest requirements of Part 262, Subpart B would not be subject to any of the export requirements.  Accordingly, such hazardous wastes as samples, residues in empty containers, wastes generated in transport vehicles, certain wastes when recycled, and wastes generated by small quantity generators of less than 100 kg/mo would be excluded from the export requirements (51 FR 28664, 28669, August 8, 1986)."

One exception to this rule is for industrial ethyl alcohol that is shipped to a foreign country for reclamation.  Although shipments of industrial ethyl alcohol do not require a manifest, exporters of this material must comply with the primary exporter requirements (261.6(a)(3)).

Once importers and exporters determine that they handle a hazardous waste subject to manifesting requirements, they are subject to the import and export requirements.  But where are these requirements located in the regulations?  Part 262 designates the requirements for generators of hazardous waste and special requirements for imports and exports of hazardous waste.  Part 262, Subparts E and F establish regulations for exports and imports, respectively.  In addition, Part 262, Subpart H establishes regulations for imports and exports of hazardous waste within the OECD.  How do importers and exporters decide which requirements to follow?   The next section discusses this matter in more detail. 

RCRA Regulations and U.S. Exporters

U.S. exporters of hazardous wastes must comply with all applicable domestic laws and regulations (federal and/or state), which include regulations under RCRA, contained in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). In general terms, a U.S. exporter must prepare and submit certain important documents during the three phases of an export:

  1. Before a shipment proceeds. An exporter must submit to EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., a notification of intent to export. This notification describes the type and amount of waste, its itinerary, the number of shipments expected, and the period during which shipments will occur. EPA forwards this notification to the government(s) of all concerned countries. The government of the importing country must consent to the shipment before it may proceed. The U.S. exporter may not allow a shipment to proceed unless EPA has notified it of the consent of the importing country, as well as that of the transit country, if required.
  2. While a shipment is in transit. An exporter must attach the uniform hazardous waste manifest to the shipment (while the waste is traveling within the U.S.), the acknowledgment of consent from the importing and transit countries, and certain additional information (in OECD situations).
  3. Annual reporting. An exporter must file an annual report with EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., on March 1 of each year. This report summarizes the exporter's shipments for the previous calendar year.

In July 2010, EPA revised RCRA regulations for spent lead-acid batteries (SLABs) to add export notification and consent requirements to provide stricter controls and greater transparency for exports of SLABs to any country, and to ensure that the batteries are sent to countries and reclamation facilities in those countries that can manage the SLABs in an environmentally sound manner. More information.

Starting on December 31, 2017, all U.S. exporters of manifested hazardous waste, universal waste, and spent lead-acid batteries for recycling or disposal, and all exporters of cathode ray tubes for recycling will be required to file EPA information in the Automated Export System (AES) or AESDirect for each export shipment. The AES resides in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CPB's) Automated Commercial Environment (ACE). Paper processes will no longer be allowed on or after the compliance date. View more information on the Compliance Date for Automated Export System (AES) Filing.

RCRA Regulations and U.S. Importers

Once the hazardous waste arrives in the U.S., importers must comply with all applicable domestic laws and regulations (federal and/or state). These include regulations under RCRA, contained in 40CFR Part 262, and Subparts F and H. For example, a U.S. importer must prepare a manifest reflecting the foreign generator and the U.S. importer. In OECD situations, there may be other requirements, such as some additional tracking information which accompanies the shipment until it arrives at the intended U.S. receiving facility.

In addition, at least four weeks before receipt of the waste in the U.S., the receiving facility must notify the appropriate EPA Regional Administrator in the Region where the facility is located.

In July 2010, EPA revised RCRA regulations regarding the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes for recovery among countries belonging to the OECD to conform to legally required revisions made by the OECD. These changes affected imports of hazardous waste, including:

  • requiring U.S. recovery facilities to submit a certificate after recovery of the waste has been completed,
  • adding provisions to ensure that hazardous wastes are returned to the country of export in a more timely and documented manner when it is necessary to do so, and
  • adding new procedures for imported hazardous wastes that are initially managed at U.S. accumulation and transfer facilities to better track and document that subsequent recovery by a separate recycling facility is completed in an environmentally sound manner.

The U.S. treatment/storage/disposal facility (TSDF) receiving a RCRA manifested hazardous waste shipment from a foreign source is required to send EPA a copy of import consent documentation that confirms EPA’s consent for that import along with a copy of the RCRA manifest for the import shipment. The matched import consent documentation and RCRA manifest must be submitted by the U.S. TSDF within 30 days of shipment delivery. Consent documentation supplied by EPA will clearly identify the waste stream, the specific foreign source, and the allowable time period and maximum quantity of waste.

State Hazardous Waste Regulations

Although RCRA is a federal law, it is mostly implemented by state environmental agencies. State authorization is a rulemaking process through which EPA delegates the primary responsibility of implementing the RCRA hazardous waste program to individual states in lieu of EPA. This process ensures national consistency and minimum standards while providing flexibility to states in implementing rules. Currently, 50 states and territories have been granted authority to implement the base, or initial, program. State RCRA programs must always be at least as stringent as the federal requirements, but states can adopt more stringent requirements as well.

Use the hazardous waste state locator to find state regulations, along with permit forms, guidance, contact information and other helpful resources.

Additional Hazardous Waste Resources

U.S. EPA Hazardous Waste Import/Export Requirements. Resources to assist importers and exporters of hazardous wastes to understand and comply with RCRA requirements for transboundary shipment of hazardous wastes. Provides an overview of related regulations with links to specific rules and documents.

Environment Canada - Import/Export of Hazardous Waste. To improve the management of hazardous wastes, the federal government has put in place an effective system to control the export and import of such wastes at border points. This fact sheet has been created as a general overview of how the Export and Import of Hazardous Wastes Regulations (EIHWR) help Canada better manage hazardous waste effectively.

International Waste Agreements. The United States is party to major international waste agreements with Canada, Mexico, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). More limited agreements are in place with Costa Rica, Malaysia, and the Philippines. In addition, the U.S. is a signatory to the Basel Convention. These agreements between the U.S. and other countries impact the handling of wastes shipped across national borders:

Code of Federal Regulations. Importers and exporters of hazardous wastes must comply with applicable domestic laws and regulations, which include regulations under RCRA, contained in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), at 40 CFR Part 262, Subparts E and H.