Posted on November 27, 2017

Retailers in a variety of verticals have faced challenges when it comes to unsold consumer products that cross into the regulated realms. The EPA is proposing some new guidelines to address these issues.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed some new guidelines for waste management regulation updates as they relate to unsold consumer products and pharmaceuticals that are handled in the retail realm. While these rules are a step in the right direction, it is believed that more needs to be done.

There is a very small percentage of consumer products that go unsold and that can be recycled, discarded or reused in retail stores, but these still represent challenges. VP compliance of the Retail Industry Leaders Association, Sue Pifer stated: “This [regulation update] is an important step forward and the retail associations welcome the opportunity to respond to these long-awaited proposals. Although portions of the proposals may offer some relief, the suggested frameworks fall short of easing the burden on retailers who want to manage unsold products in a more sustainable fashion, rather than discarding potentially useful or recyclable items. The retail associations again emphasize in their comments that most unsold consumer products and pharmaceuticals are not ‘wastes’, due to the fact that many are suitable for re-shelving, donation, recycling, liquidation or shipment back to vendors for credit.”

The specifics on the EPA’s proposed rules:

  • Allow a waste generator to avoid increased burdens of a higher generator status when generating large quantities of hazardous waste “episodically,” or unexpectedly and infrequently. Such episodes may be the result of broken or damaged customer returns, theft or damage within the store, public dumping in trash receptacles or recalls of unusable products;
  • Allow very small quantity generators to consolidate hazardous wastes from multiple locations at a “large quantity generator” site, such as a distribution center, thereby eliminating the disproportionate regulatory burdens of a higher generator status at store-level, provided certain conditions are met; and
  • Allow health care facilities to manage hazardous waste pharmaceuticals under tailored, sector-specific regulations, and relax the requirements for managing empty pharmaceutical containers.

The EPA is additionally making potential amendments to increase ‘acute’ hazardous waste classification for such items as smoking cessation products.

Retail associations made note that reverse distribution does involve the consolidation and removal of pharmaceuticals and consumer products that are not sold in retails stores. This has been a long-standing practice is business that is not only good for consumers, but is eco-friendly. The practice itself predates the RCRA to retailers reverse distribution operations which is considered to be somewhat arcane.

The challenges of complying with RCRA was addressed in a 2014 RILA that was headed by a coalition of retailers and the issues that were raised by the coalition addressed rules that had been proposed and was released in September, 2015 by the EPA.

It should be noted that in addition to RILA, the association of retailers included the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the Food Marketing Institute, the National Retail Federation and the National Grocers Association.


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