5 Facts You Should Know About the RCRA ‘Cradle-to-Grave’ Law

When you wash your forklift batteries, the used water becomes a whole new legal entity: hazardous waste. Contaminated with acid and heavy metals, that battery wash water is now subject to the complex regulations laid out in the EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The most famous element of the RCRA is Subtitle C, which establishes controls for hazardous waste, from generation to disposal. This exhaustive waste management system requires generators to document forklift battery wastewater, allowing EPA officials to track its transportation and eventual fate. industrial-battery-wash-water

Subtitle C of the RCRA is also called the “Cradle-to-Grave” rule, which has ominous overtones. As long as your facility complies with the federal regulations, though, you can avoid corrupting the municipal water supply — and enormous fines from the EPA. Here are five things every fleet manager should know about the Cradle-to-Grave law.

  1. Generators of hazardous waste are ultimately responsible for controlling the substances that they produce. It’s up to facility staff to figure out if their byproducts are considered “hazardous waste” and to make a plan to recycle or dispose of those substances according to EPA guidelines.

  2. Operations that don’t process wastewater in-house can contract maintenance providers to wash their batteries on-site. Under the EPA’s standards of practice, when two entities collaborate on the production of hazardous waste (such as battery wash water), one can take responsibility as the sole generator of that waste. Battery wash providers that are designated as sole generators can transport wash water to their own facility to complete treatment, freeing the battery user from EPA requirements.

  3. Your wastewater may be exempt from RCRA Subtitle C regulations if you establish a closed-loop recycling system. By combining an enclosed BHS Battery Wash Cabinet (BWC) with a BHS Wastewater Recycling System (WRS) or Recirculation/Neutralization System (RNS), you may be able to qualify for the RCRA’s Closed-Loop Recycling Exemption.

  4. The RCRA refers to qualifying waste products as “solid waste,” but that doesn’t say anything about the physical state of your battery runoff. Even a liquid can be considered “solid waste” for the EPA’s purposes.

  5. EPA standards for treatment of hazardous waste differ based on how much waste you generate in a given month. Facilities that create 2,200 lbs (1,000 kg) or more of hazardous waste every month are considered “large quantity generators” and regulated heavily.

    If your facility creates between 220 lbs (100 kg) and 2,200 lbs (1000 kg) of hazardous waste per month, it’s considered a “small quantity generator,” and follows less stringent standards.

    Finally, “conditionally exempt small quantity generators” produce fewer than 220 lbs (100kg) of hazardous waste per month and are barred from accumulating over 2,200 lbs of the stuff at any given time. However, they are still responsible for everything that happens to pollutants they create.

    Note that third-party wash providers can claim the role of “generator,” taking full legal obligation for the transportation and treatment of battery wash water.

If you have concerns about compliance with the RCRA’s Cradle-to-Grave rules, consider installing a BHS Wastewater Recycling System. This high-capacity purifier processes used battery wastewater, producing RCRA-compliant water. Meanwhile, the WRS traps pollutants in a bentonite clay cake that’s entirely safe for conventional disposal.

Given the heavy fines the EPA slaps on polluters — and the waste generator’s lifelong responsibility for harmful byproducts — it pays to ensure that you are not considered the generator of battery wash water unless you have an in-house treatment option like the Wastewater Recycling System. If you rely on third-party maintenance services for battery washes, make sure your provider will accept the designation of sole generator.


Hazardous Waste – RCRA Subtitle C.” EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.

RCRA Orientation Manual 2014.” EPA. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2014. PDF. 28 Oct. 2015.