Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources


Hazardous waste Frequently asked questions

What is a waste?

The Wisconsin statutes define waste quite broadly. Basically, a waste is any liquid, solid, or gaseous material that can no longer be used for its originally intended purpose because it has become contaminated or has been used in some process.

A waste is also defined as any material which is still usable for its originally intended purpose but which you decide to discard. For example, you may have purchased a container of fresh carbon tetrachloride and discover that you do not need it. The carbon tetrachloride is a waste once you decide to get rid of it. Similarly, if you spill carbon tetrachloride in your backyard, the contaminated soil is a waste if you have to have it removed for disposal (or treatment). Moreover, it may be a hazardous waste. If you discard a rag used to mop up the solvent, the rag may also be a hazardous waste.

What is a hazardous waste?

If a material meets the definition of a waste, you then need to determine whether it is hazardous or non-hazardous. The regulations define hazardous waste in two ways: listed hazardous waste and characteristic hazardous waste (see "Definitions" and Small Business Hazardous Waste web page for details on listed and characteristic hazardous wastes)

How can I eliminate the guesswork in identifying hazardous wastes?
  • Check information from suppliers-e.g., container labels, invoice descriptions or Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)-information about the characteristics of chemicals may help determine if the waste from a relatively simple process is a characteristic waste due to the nature of the chemicals that are used. Under the Hazard Communication Rule administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, chemical manufacturers and distributors of hazardous materials must supply an MSDS for their products.
  • Contact other businesses with the same or similar operations.
  • Contact your trade association.
  • Finally, in order to determine if your waste is hazardous, it may be appropriate to have it tested by a private laboratory. Many transporters and treatment and disposal facilities require test results. Appendix D contains a list of commercial laboratories certified by the DNR Office of Technical Services. The Office of Technical Services also publishes, "A User's Guide to Laboratory Services." Call 608-266-0531 to order a copy. Select a laboratory that uses EPA approved testing methods. Standards for these tests can be found in publications such as the EPA's "Test Methods for Evaluating Solid Waste" (Document #SW-846) which is available from the following sources:

National Technical Information
Service (NTIS)
5285 Port Royal Road
Springfield, VA 22161
(703) 487-4600

What are some questions to ask when hiring a laboratory?
  • Are you certified by the DNR?
  • Will you provide suitable containers for samples?
  • Does your service include: sample collection, transportation, analysis and test results?
  • Which treatment, storage, disposal facilities (TSD) and haulers will accept your results?
  • When can samples be delivered to your laboratory and where? and what's the turnaround time?
  • If I collect the samples, will the lab provide guidance on how to collect, store and transport it?
  • If there is any material left over, am I responsible or will the lab take care of disposing of it?

The quality of the laboratory results depends on both sampling and testing. Be sure to get a representative sample to send to the laboratory. Again, the purpose of having your waste tested is to assist you in identifying it as accurately as possible.

Call your DNR Hazardous Waste Specialist if you are still unable to determine whether or not the waste is hazardous. If you generate acutely hazardous waste, contact your DNR hazardous waste specialist for additional help.

What is the satellite accumulation rule?

There is a limited exception to the 180 day storage rule called the satellite accumulation rule. Up to 55 gallons of hazardous waste (or 1 quart of acute hazardous waste) can be exempt from the 180 day requirement if it is kept at or near the place of generation and is under the operator's control at all times. While the waste is accumulating at this satellite accumulation point, the container must be marked with the words "Hazardous Waste" or other words identifying the contents of the container. Once the container is full, the waste must be removed from the satellite accumulation point and/or once more than 55 gallons has been accumulated, the 180 day provision goes into effect.

To ensure that the wastes are handled safely during the 180 day accumulation period, certain management requirements must be met. These management requirements do not apply to very small quantity generators, although following them will ensure a safer working environment.

How should I handle storage containers?
  • containers must not leak - in the event of a leak, the waste should be transferred immediately to a container in good condition;
  • containers must be made or lined with materials which will not react with or be incompatible with the hazardous waste;
  • Containers must be maintained in good condition;
  • Containers must not be opened, handled or stored in a manner which may rupture the container or cause it to leak;
  • Containers must be covered at all times except when adding or removing waste;
  • Containers must be labeled "Hazardous Waste" with the accumulation start date; and
  • Containers must be inspected weekly to ensure they are not leaking.
How can I be prepared for and prevent emergencies?

At a minimum, you should have the following equipment and procedures in place:

  • an internal communication or alarm system capable of providing immediate warning to facility personnel;
  • a telephone or two-way radio capable of summoning emergency assistance;
  • portable fire extinguishers, fire control equipment, spill control equipment, and decontamination equipment;
  • enough water to provide for emergency response;
  • an equipment testing program to ensure that it is ready for an emergency; the equipment must be readily available to all employees handling hazardous waste; and
  • adequate aisle space for movement of emergency equipment and personnel.

You must make arrangements with emergency responders. First, you should invite your county emergency government director, the local police, fire department, and emergency medical services personnel to the facility and familiarize them with the layout, the waste handled at the facility, and the evacuation routes. Where there is more than one police or fire department that will respond to an emergency, one department should be the designated lead.

Second, you should contact local hospitals and acquaint them with the types of injuries or illnesses that might result from fires, explosions, or releases of the hazardous waste at your facility. If a state or local authority fails to participate in the arrangements, you should document that failure in your records.

Consult the DNR for advice on how to prevent accidents in your facility.

How long must I keep my documentation?

clock - imageMaintain the following records for a minimum of three years -

  • manifests;
  • manifest exception reports;
  • license application;
  • license renewal;
  • lab or analytical reports;
  • training documents;
  • inspection logs; and
  • Land Disposal Restriction (LDR) forms.

The department also strongly recommends keeping pertinent material safety data sheets (MSDSs) and correspondence.