EPA Update: Unused Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer

The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued a reinterpretation of the RCRA industrial ethyl alcohol exemption as it applies to the reclamation of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. EPA now takes the position that industrial ethyl alcohol-based products, including alcohol-based hand sanitizer, qualify for the exemption whether or not the materials are spent. EPA’s reinterpretation is good news for businesses needing to discard COVID era unused alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

In November 2022, EPA published a memo regarding the management of discarded hand sanitizer under RCRA. In this memo, EPA stated that an industrial ethyl alcohol-based product must be “spent” to qualify for the recycling exemption at 40 CFR § 261.6(a)(3)(i). EPA’s regulations define a “spent” material as one that has been used and because of contamination can no longer serve the purpose for which it was produced without processing. In its reinterpretation memo, EPA concludes that under 40 CFR 261.2(c)(3), excess alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a commercial chemical product and is not a solid waste when it is reclaimed, provided the reclaimed product is not used as a fuel or burned for energy recovery, or used in a manner constituting disposal. Since it is subject to an exemption per 40 CFR 261.2 and consideration of whether the materials are spent is not required, EPA has determined that unused industrial ethyl alcohol, including unused alcohol-based hand sanitizer, also qualifies for exemption.

EPA’s new guidance is good news for businesses that need to manage excess, unused alcohol-based hand sanitizer as the exemption allows for certain reclamation activities as an option for managing this chemical product. Some state regulations may be more stringent or broader in scope than federal requirements, so businesses need to check with applicable state regulatory authorities.


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