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How to Properly Manage Industrial Rags

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is a federal law that creates a program to manage hazardous wastes throughout their life cycle. The said program is established to ensure that hazardous wastes are handled in a manner that safeguards human health and the environment.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for establishing the regulations and procedures for the generation, transportation, storage and disposals of hazardous waste handlers. Technical standards were also created for the design and safe operation of treatment, storage and disposal facilitates to minimize the release of hazardous waste into the environment. These regulations serve as the foundation for developing and issuing permits.

The RCRA encompasses everything that deals with hazardous wastes, including industrial rags. Industrial rags are textile rags recycled from post-consumer sweatshirt cotton and cotton blend. These rags are both soft and durable, making them suitable for industrial cleaning. Many industries such as printing, manufacturing, engineering, automotive, gas and oil use industrial rags in their everyday cleanup. They are used to apply cleaning solvents to parts and to wipe waste oil, machine fluids, paint spills, polishing wipes, chemical spills and other solvents off.

Under the RCRA, proper management and disposal of used and contaminated rags are dependent  on the type of contaminating solvents or materials to the application of solvents. Used industrial rags are solid waste by definition. Therefore, under RCRA regulations, they have to undergo hazardous waste management requirements when no longer in use. The contaminated rags must be collected in a proper container that is kept closed, labeled, dated and inspected weekly. These must be sent to a proper RCRA facility for disposal.

If industrial rags are to be laundered and reused off-site rather than disposed of, they are not treated as a solid waste. These means that from the time these rags are taken from the facility to be sent to the laundry, RCRA rules on solid waste management will not apply to them. However, there must be no free liquids present in the accumulated rags. Any liquid must be managed as a hazardous waste and the entire rag may be considered as a hazardous waste. The laundry service's job is to return usable rags to customers, not to manage their hazardous wastes.

    Companies who fail to follow to this technicality may be subject to full regulations for waste rags and possible citation for failure to properly identify and manage hazardous wastes. Allowing solvents to evaporate from rags in order to make it a “no free liquids" state is forbidden by RCRA. What businesses can do is to use extractors or wringers to recover excess solvents in these rags if they want to launder these used rags. Any recovered liquid must be managed accordingly.

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