July 2014 | Commentary | Viewpoint

Retailers, Watch Your Waste Lines

Tags: Green Logistics, Retail, Risk Management

Mike Rozembajgier is Vice President, Stericycle, 847-367-5910

Hazardous waste is no longer an issue facing only industrial manufacturing companies. It has become an area of significant concern for retailers, too. When it comes to managing hazardous waste, retailers must strike a precarious balance between complexity and control.

The repercussions of achieving this balance can be significant. Not only do such infractions place a financial burden on retailers, but public fines can also negatively impact a brand's reputation, costing millions in lost sales.

It is critical that retailers find the right balance to comply with hazardous waste regulations. To do that, they must address the following hazardous waste management challenges:

Geographic variances. Definitions of which materials are considered hazardous can vary at the federal, state, and county levels—and constantly evolve with political, environmental, and economic pressures. Coastal states historically have driven compliance because of their proximity to watersheds and coastlines, but many landlocked regions are now increasing their regulatory oversight.

In addition to this geographic shift, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is focusing on compliance at a national level. Retailers that have invested in compliance programs solely within the most historically active regions face new vulnerabilities.

Footprint size. State and federal agencies task retailers with adhering to regulations originally designed for the manufacturing industry. Because retail locations often occupy a significantly smaller physical footprint than their manufacturing counterparts, properly storing hazardous materials poses a greater challenge.

Retailers must segregate all unsalable products into one of four categories: returnable to the manufacturer, reusable via donation, resellable, or waste material.

Next, the retailer has to further classify the waste materials as hazardous, non-hazardous, or universal waste in compliance with federal and state regulations. The products classified as hazardous waste must be properly separated from other waste material, and stored until they can be removed and, ultimately, destroyed.

Employee training. Not only does the retail sector deal with a larger set of hazardous materials than its manufacturing counterparts, but most retail associates are not experienced in the complexities of hazardous materials handling.

The high turnover often found in retail environments adds complexity. With employees coming and going, and seasonal spikes impacting staffing needs, retailers are constantly challenged to educate all associates on the proper handling of hazardous materials.

Digitization. Retailers face additional challenges as hazardous waste management becomes increasingly digital. Under the Hazardous Waste Electronic Manifest Establishment Act, the EPA must establish a uniform plan by 2015 to move its records from paper-based to digital documents.

An expert partner can prepare retailers for the challenges of hazardous waste management by designing an effective compliance program customized to the brand's unique needs. Partnering with an expert can help protect companies from the implications of non-compliance, and ensure that retailers find the right balance between complexity and control necessary to comply with hazardous waste regulations.