Wade Scheel, director of governmental affairs for Stericycle Environmental Solutions.
Wade Scheel, director of governmental affairs for Stericycle Environmental Solutions.

When you first opened your salon, you likely didn’t think about the responsibilities of properly managing and disposing of hazardous waste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies several commonly used beauty products in salons and spas as hazardous waste. Although most of these products are safe enough for everyday use, it is necessary for salon and spa owners and managers to understand that many materials require special disposal.

Proper planning is crucial to managing your hazardous waste in a safe, compliant and sustainable manner. When hazardous materials are poured down the sink, onto the ground, into storm drains or put out with the regular trash, they can harm people, the environment and your brand.

If you are non-compliant with hazardous waste disposal laws, you can be subject to fines and penalties, which have increased in recent years. The EPA has distributed more than $4.6 million in fines in the last four years while conducting small business inspections for mislabeling hazardous waste or improper disposal. Not to mention, multi-site retailers in California were handed out $34 million in fines last year alone. 

There are several best practices salon and spa professionals should incorporate into their hazardous waste management programs. In addition to following certain protocols, having a clear understanding of hazardous waste regulations is the foundation for an effective program.

Defining Hazardous Waste

The EPA defines hazardous waste as “waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment.” Once an item containing hazardous properties is no longer usable, it is deemed hazardous waste. Some of the common products you use can contain acids, alkalis or flammable solvents, which may make these items become hazardous wastes when you can no longer use them. The EPA regulates hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA), which was enacted in 1976, to ensure these wastes are managed in a safe and compliant manner.

To determine whether a product is considered hazardous waste, make sure to review its manufacturer information, label, ingredients and Safety Data Sheet (SDS). An SDS is a document that lists information relating to the product’s occupational safety and health information for the use of the product. Any products requiring an SDS include chemical components. Technical information about these chemicals is described on the SDS.

Salon and spa professionals can also always refer to specific guidelines provided by their hazardous management service provider.

Many beauty products are regulated as hazardous waste, and therefore, owners and others in the industry must follow all government-mandated guidelines outlined within RCRA and any other relevant federal, state or local regulations that dictate how to manage and dispose of hazardous waste.

Common Hazardous Wastes

Today’s beauty salons and spas offer a range of services – from hair styling to nail and skin treatments as well as retail products. By providing these services, however, many wastes can be generated.

Examples of products that may be considered a RCRA hazardous waste in your salon or spa can include, but are not limited to: acetone or nail polish remover; aerosols, including hair spray and quick nail dry; acrylic nail liquids and powders; adhesives, including cyanoacrylate nail glue; nail base and top coats; nail polish; certain gels; hair coloring, dye and bleach; disinfectants used to equipment and other tools; some soaps and shampoos (state regulated) ; fluorescent bulbs; batteries; and electronics.

Hazardous Waste Best Practices

The most important first step salon or spa owners and managers should take is making sure a waste management compliance program is set in place. Below are several best practices for bagging, separating and storing hazardous waste items that will help ensure the safety and compliance of your program:

  • Properly seal items. Prior to storing any hazardous waste items in a bin, place them individually in a sealed plastic bag. This will keep items from mixing and causing a reaction.
  • Use separate bins. Incompatible hazardous waste items must remain separate. It’s recommended to use designated bins for each type of hazardous waste category: aerosols and flammables, toxics, corrosive acidic, corrosive alkaline (basic), oxidizers and universal waste.
  • Label containers properly. Once the initial item is placed within a bin, label the container as hazardous waste and also include the accumulation start date and an indication of the hazardous characteristic of the waste. Should an inspector ever visit your salon, proper labeling is one of the first things they will evaluate.
  • Scout a safe storage area. Store accumulation bins in a dedicated, clean and neatly organized hazardous waste area. Make sure bins are stored away from heavy traffic areas, electrical panels, perishable or consumable product storage and dock doors.

Once stored properly, hazardous waste disposal should be done in accordance with state and local regulations. Small businesses may be able to dispose of their accumulated wastes on hazardous waste collection days, which are designated days when residents and other small generators can bring small amounts of hazardous materials to a specified fixed place for the city to collect and dispose of.

This is the easiest and most economical way for salons to dispose of old product. Many cities will collect the materials for free or a nominal fee. You should consult local resources find your hazardous waste collection day in your area that accepts wastes from small businesses.

However, salon and spa owners and managers at larger hazardous waste generators (such as salon chains) should partner with a knowledgeable, experienced third-party waste partner to ensure proper storage and final disposal, and to mitigate any large-scale penalties from noncompliance.

Ultimately, salon and spa professionals should strive to minimize or completely remove the generation of hazardous waste by eliminating as many of its waste streams as possible. By managing hazardous waste in a safe and compliant way by following regulations and partnering with an experienced waste solution, you will ensure the safety of your customers, employees, the environment and overall brand.

About the Author: Wade Scheel the director of governmental affairs for Stericycle Environmental Solutions, a leading provider of environmental and regulated waste management solutions. Stericycle’s hazardous waste services support virtually any kind of business that generates any hazardous waste, including salons, educational facilities, manufacturers, Fortune 500 retailers and much more.

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