Blog

01 Sep
Lithium-ion batteries
Preventing Lithium-ion Battery Fires

Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) are powerful, relatively inexpensive, and lightweight energy sources that are used to power a vast assortment of electronics and portable tools. Given this, it is not surprising that the number of LIBs in circulation is continuing to increase at a near exponential rate with technology advances. Subsequently, the number of fires caused by LIBs in the waste management process is also on the rise.

The Risks of LIBs

Many in industry know firsthand the risks associated with LIBs in waste/recycling. LIBs have high energy density and are made from materials that make them more prone to combustion or explosion when they are damaged. This is attributed to “thermal runaway”, a reaction in which the battery unexpectedly releases its energy and begins self-heating. This reaction can produce enough heat to ignite materials near the battery, even if the battery itself does not ignite.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is really taking notice. In a recent report, An Analysis of Lithium-ion Battery Fires in Waste Management and Recycling, EPA provides an evaluation of areas of risk associated with LIBs, as well as some excellent data and case studies of events that have occurred. The report discusses that physical damage to the LIB is one of the most common causes of thermal reaction and that much damage can occur at many different steps of the waste management system.

This information serves as a good reminder of just how risky and prevalent these batteries are—and how important it is to manage them appropriately. 

Mitigating Risk

While the EPA information is very good, the report doesn’t offer suggestions in how to improve operations and mitigate this type of risk—and it can be a very challenging risk to try to address.

KTL has staff with strong backgrounds working in recycling facility operations with hands-on experience developing strategies to minimize this risk. Solutions may be as simple as identifying and using special storage containers in designated areas, to as comprehensive as conducting onsite process evaluations to determine the best ways to segregate batteries and safely transfer them for further processing. 

KTL does not see this problem with LIB management going awaKTL does not see this problem with LIB management going away any time soon—nor does EPA. We continue to explore alternatives and work with companies to mitigate risk to the extent possible. Please contact us if you are facing challenges with LIB recycling and management or would just like a fresh set of eyes to evaluate your current risk level. We can work together to make your company operations safer.

23 Aug
Staff SPOTlight Joseph Kunes
Staff Spotlight on Joseph Kunes

Get to know our KTL team! This month, we are catching up with KTL Consultant Joseph Kunes.  Joseph supports KTL’s information management projects, including Microsoft SharePoint®, dynaQ™, and other database applications. As an educator by training, he excels at guiding clients through technology implementation. Joseph is based out of St. Louis, Missouri. 

Tell us a little bit about your background—what are your areas of expertise?

I started my professional career as a French teacher and taught Middle School French in Milwaukee, Wisconsin before I joined KTL in 2012. My first project at KTL was performing some outreach work with the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD). At that time, KTL offered a dynaQ™ assessment/audit tool designed to help our clients establish and/or maintain compliance with NACD’s Responsible Distribution standard.

This initial assignment of providing dynaQ support to KTL’s chemical distribution clients, allowed me to start developing a greater skillset and deeper understanding of KTL’s database tools and the information technology (IT) side of developing them. As my technology skills have grown, my role at KTL has also changed and expanded over time. To this day, however, I continue to work directly to provide IT support on KTL projects (e.g., dynaQ, database applications, and SharePoint tools) and to maintain and grow our client relationships.

What types of clients do you work with? What are the biggest issues you see them facing right now?

I work with public and private clients across a number of sectors—most of which are focused on developing or improving environmental program management. Despite this diverse clientele, I continually see a universal challenge of staying organized enough to grow operational productivity while maintaining the various aspects of regulatory compliance. It is a difficult balance for many organizations to strike, particularly when so many are resource-constrained right now.

What would you say is a highlight of your job?

I take great pride in seeing the fruits of my labor evident in everyday life.  I am currently part of a team tasked with maintaining bridge and rail infrastructure, thus leading to the distribution of goods throughout the nation. In the past, I have worked with organizations to rebuild the electrical grid in the southeast and Puerto Rico after having been devastated by hurricanes. It’s rewarding to play a role on projects like that. I also truly enjoy the client satisfaction and appreciation we often experience once we have restored order to sometimes chaotic systems by setting up custom SharePoint sites with the appropriate tools tailored to suit the client’s needs.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I’m a man of simple pleasures—I enjoy good food and good drink in good company. I am also (and hope to soon be again) an avid traveler and enjoy exploring new places to take in the local fare.  I’m also a big fan of the arts—be it musical, performance, or material—as well as any cultural experiences.

Read Joseph’s full bio.

23 Aug
EPA Enforcement: Ammonia Refrigeration

Over the past several months, we have seen an uptick in Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement actions and large penalties for violations related to anhydrous ammonia storage, risk management, and chemical accident prevention planning. These include the following recent penalties:

Many of these violations have been uncovered as part of a National Compliance Initiative (NCI), which focuses on reducing risk to human health and the environment by decreasing the likelihood of accidental releases at facilities. According to EPA, there are approximately 150 catastrophic accidents each year at facilities that make, use, or store extremely hazardous substances (EHS). With ammonia refrigeration making up approximately 40% of the facilities with EHS regulated under the EPA’s Risk Management Program, these facilities have become a clear target for EPA.

Chemical Accident Prevention Program

Anhydrous ammonia is classified as an EHS that presents a significant health hazard if accidentally released. Anhydrous ammonia is corrosive to skin, eyes, and lungs. Exposure to 300 ppm is immediately dangerous to life and health. It is also flammable at concentrations of about 15-28% by volume in air.

To help refrigeration facilities comply with Clean Air Act (CAA) requirements and prevent accidents that could result in these significant hazards, EPA’s NCI is working to enforce the following regulatory aspects of the CAA’s Chemical Accident Prevention Program:

  • Risk Management Plan (RMP) regulations (40 CFR Part 68)
  • General Duty Clause (GDC) (CAA Section 112(r))
  • Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) (CAA Section 312)
  • Process Safety Management (PSM) regulations (29 CFR 1910.119)

Risk Management Plan (RMP)

EPA’s RMP regulations require facilities that have more than a threshold quantity of certain regulated chemicals in a process (e.g., use or storage) to develop a Risk Management Program. CAA designates anhydrous ammonia as a regulated substance under RMP with a threshold quantity of 10,000 lbs.

Recent cases have demonstrated that refrigeration facilities may not be fully implementing RMPs, despite requirements. Facilities subject to RMP must:

  • Analyze the worst-case release scenario to determine the potential effects of a release.
  • Implement a prevention program that includes safety precautions, as well as maintenance, monitoring, and employee training.
  • Complete a five-year accident history.
  • Coordinate response actions with the local emergency response agencies through an Emergency Response Program.
  • Submit to EPA a written RMP that summarizes the Risk Management Program.

General Duty Clause (GDC)

The GDC requires that owners and operators of facilities with regulated substances and other EHS in any quantity ensure those chemicals are managed safely. Unlike RMP, GDC applies to many chemicals and applies facility-wide, regardless of the amount of chemical stored. Facilities are responsible for:

  • Identifying the hazards posed by chemicals and assessing impacts of possible releases.
  • Designing and maintaining a safe facility to prevent accidental release.
  • Minimizing the consequences of accidental releases that do occur.

The EPA NCI focuses specifically on the “identifying hazards” component of GDC, particularly at ammonia refrigeration facilities using 1,000 lbs. to 10,000 lbs. of anhydrous ammonia (i.e., those that fall below the RMP threshold).

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know (EPCRA)

Section 312 of EPCRA requires facilities to report the presence of certain chemicals, including anhydrous ammonia, to Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and response agencies. The purpose is to ensure emergency responders know what chemicals are onsite should they need to respond to an incident.

Any facility that is required to maintain Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for hazardous chemicals stored or used onsite must submit an annual Tier II inventory report for those chemicals. Tier II forms require basic facility identification information, employee contact information (emergency and non-emergency), information about chemicals stored/used at the facility, and additional data elements that would be useful to LEPCs and first responders.

Process Safety Management (PSM)

PSM regulations require facilities to prevent or minimize the consequences of catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable, or explosive chemicals. While PSM is not an EPA regulation, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) program is closely related to EPA’s RMP program. RMP is intended to protect the environment and the community; PSM is an occupational health program intended to protect workers. Applicability thresholds differ for RMP and PSM for some chemicals; however, the PSM and RMP thresholds for anhydrous ammonia are the same—10,000 lbs.

PSM establishes a comprehensive management program made up of 14 elements. The process hazard analysis is the key provision of the standard, as it is intended to identify, evaluate, and control the hazards involved in the process.

Additional Enforcement Focused on Process Startup

In February 2021, EPA issued a new Enforcement Alert, “Risk of Chemical Accidents During Process Startup.” According to the alert, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) has noted that a disproportionate number of accidents occur during startup or other nonroutine operations.

Given this recent Alert, EPA cites that the following provisions of the RMP regulations are particularly important to prevent accidents during process startup:

  • Operating procedures that provide clear instructions for safely conducting activities involved in each covered process.
  • Training so each employee involved in operating a process is familiar with operating procedures, safety and health hazards, emergency operations, and safe work practices.
  • Pre-startup review to ensure construction and equipment is functioning according to design specifications and that safety, operating, maintenance, and emergency procedures are in and place and adequate.

Avoiding Enforcement: Hazard Analysis

As part of the NCI, EPA has been sending Information Requests to select facilities that it believes may be out of compliance with GDC. Again, the primary focus of those Information Requests includes those facilities with 1,000 lbs. to 10,000 lbs. of anhydrous ammonia onsite. Facilities are required to answer four questions about their ammonia refrigeration systems, including whether they have performed a process hazard review.

EPA is focusing heavily on the first duty of the GDC (i.e., hazard review) as it evaluates facilities for violations. An EPA Enforcement Alert on anhydrous ammonia at refrigeration facilities from February 2015 reinforces that identifying the hazards of a facility’s refrigeration systems is crucial to accident prevention and compliance. This involves identifying and inventorying every chemical onsite, understanding the associated hazards of each chemical, and making sure employees and local responders know what to do in case of an accident. Part of this analysis should also include addressing potential gaps between new industry codes and standards and the standards to which the facility was built (e.g., facility upgrades).

If your facility uses anhydrous ammonia and you have not conducted a hazard analysis, you are at significant risk of incurring enforcement actions of fines. It is important you invest the time and resources required to:

  • Understand the hazards posed by chemicals at the facility.
  • Assess the impacts of a potential release.
  • Design and maintain a safe facility to prevent accidental releases.
  • Coordinate with local emergency responders.
  • Minimize the consequences of accidental releases that do occur.

KTL has experience working with a broad cross-section of industries impacted by PSM, RMP, GDC, and EPCRA, particularly chemical and food processing companies. We have created RMP and GDC audit protocols, conducted audits, and implemented investigation/improvement programs following significant release events. In addition, our team provides Tier II and TRI reporting, writes plans for OSHA and Emergency Response, and routinely works with LEPCs to coordinate emergency response efforts and exercises to keep communities informed and safe. Our team has helped many companies keep operations safe and compliant—and avoid EPA enforcement.

 

18 Aug
EPA Guidance on Hazardous Waste Incineration Backlog

Last month, KTL published an article on the national incinerator slowdown many Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) and Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) are experiencing firsthand right now. We included some guidance for facilities being adversely impacted by the current backlog on how to proactively manage this situation based on KTL’s conversations with EPA and waste management companies.

On August 10, 2021, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery (ORCR) issued a formal memorandum in response to the national incinerator backlog for containerized hazardous waste. The memo states that as of late July 2021, EPA has heard from over 20 states that they have received requests from hazardous waste generators for extensions to the accumulation time limit (i.e., 90 days for LQGs and 180 days for SQGs*)—and some states have begun receiving requests for second extensions.

The Agency also predicts that this backlog may not fully resolve until the end of the first quarter of 2022 due to a number of factors, including the following:

  • Labor shortages resulting from COVID-19 that are impacting transportation and incinerators.
  • Shutdowns for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance, as well as from winter storms in the southern U.S.
  • Increased manufacturing and resulting hazardous waste generation as the economy recovers from the pandemic.

The EPA memo goes on to explain multiple existing regulatory options for various regulated entities that generate and manage hazardous waste to address the backlog. These options are primarily focused on providing storage extensions for LQGs and SQGs and granting permit authorization for increased storage capacity at RCRA-permitted transportation, storage, and disposal facilities (TSDFs). These are intended to be temporary solutions to help ensure hazardous waste continues to be safely managed during this unusual circumstance.

KTL remains engaged with EPA and numerous hazardous waste disposal vendors to carefully monitor the incinerator backlog situation. We understand the challenges facilities are facing and can help navigate the regulatory environment and implement one of the recommended storage extension strategies to keep facilities in compliance. 

* Or 270 days for SQGs if the waste must be transported 200 miles or more.

17 Aug
hand sanitizer
Hand Sanitizer Disposal

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our nation’s distilleries and ethanol plants began producing ethanol-based hand sanitizer to meet global demands. Many of these sanitizers are 60% or greater ethanol content (greater than 24% alcohol), have a flashpoint below 140 F, and must be coded as D001 hazardous waste if disposed. 

Some of these hand sanitizers are going unused due to their odor, over-procurement, and other issues. This excess hand sanitizer has created some concern from various regulatory entities, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on compliance issues regarding the safe handling and disposal of hand sanitizer.

In response, EPA issued guidance in a June 24, 2021, letter to the USDA addressing considerations and requirements for appropriate hand sanitizer disposal. According to the memo, “…when recycled, hand sanitizer is exempt from hazardous waste regulations and does not have to ship on a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest. If not recycled, the disposal of alcohol-based hand sanitizers requires full cradle-to-grave management, including (but not limited to) hazardous waste notification, hazardous waste labeling, manifesting, and waste reporting to the state or the federal government.”

These requirements provide an idea of just how robust the penalties for improper (i.e., “down-the-drain”) disposal would likely be. Facilities may want to try returning the sanitizer to the manufacturer as an easy first step or continue using it for its “intended purpose,” if possible. Alternatively, KTL has the in-house expertise to identify options for hazardous waste management and/or reuse of resources that can help facilities manage excess hand sanitizer or excess hazardous waste. We are currently working to identify alternative end-use destinations for hand sanitizer, including reverse distribution or other entities that may have a use for such products.   

10 Aug
Creating Sustainable Impacts Part 2: Lifecycle Analysis (LCA)

As discussed in Part 1 of KTL’s series on Creating Sustainable Impacts, sustainable materials management (SMM) broadens the ideas behind integrated waste management (IWM) to examine all the environmental impacts of material production and consumption, not just waste diversion or recyclability. It considers the entire lifecycle (i.e., extracting, manufacturing, distributing, using, and end-of-life management) of a product and/or process. Adopting sustainable materials management (SMM), organizations can improve their triple bottom line (TBL)—reducing their environmental impacts significantly, while still increasing profit—and contribute to the overall sustainability of our world.

Analyzing the Entire Lifecycle

These SMM solutions are most effectively identified through a lifecycle analysis (LCA). As the name implies, an LCA considers potential environmental impacts at every stage of a product’s life. An LCA can demonstrate that seemingly obvious solutions are not always the best solutions. For example, non-recyclable packaging may actually have fewer environmental impacts than recyclable packaging if it is lighter and occupies less space. Understandably, solutions like this can seem counterintuitive to waste management professionals, but this example demonstrates the importance of considering the impacts of a material across its entire lifecycle.

LCAs do not replace the basic principles underlying EPA’s Waste Management Hierarchy, especially the importance of source reduction and waste prevention. In fact, LCAs generally show that most of a product’s environmental impacts occur earlier in its lifecycle (i.e., upstream) vs, at the end of its life (i.e., downstream). Thus, choosing a different raw material—or finding ways to use less—is often more impactful than end-of-life waste management solutions.

But as LCAs will show, even this concept of reducing material use is not a given for all products. For example, food packaging is vital in reducing food spoilage and subsequent wasted food. Reducing or eliminating packaging may save material, but in the end, this may lead to more wasted food and even greater environmental impacts.

As consumer goods and related packaging get more complex, an LCA considers the most effective management for materials, including how they are used, potentially reused, and eventually discarded. This ultimately helps organizations identify environmental sustainability priorities; move past one-dimensional waste management goals; and then design, select, and manage products accordingly.

Conducting an LCA

LCAs identify and quantify inputs and outputs in a process and use data to assess the potential environmental impacts across the lifecycle. According to the Sustainable Materials Management Coalition, this allows more informed decisions that:

  • Evaluate environmental consequences of a given product.
  • Analyze the environmental tradeoffs associated with one or more specific products/processes.
  • Quantify environmental releases to air, water, and land in relation to each lifecycle stage.
  • Compare the potential environmental impacts between two or more products/processes.
  • Identify potential impacts to one or more specific environmental areas of concern.
  • Provide a comprehensive view of the environmental aspects of the product or process and a more accurate picture of the true environmental tradeoffs in process and product selection.

ISO 14040 defines the principles and frameworks to adequately conduct an LCA, while ISO 14044 specifies the related requirements and guidelines. An ISO LCA is conducted in the following four stages:

  • Goal and Scope: What do we want to measure (i.e., product/company/service)? The LCA objectives, scope, and boundaries need to be carefully selected and clearly framed.
  • Lifecycle Inventory: What data do we need? Collect all the inputs and processes to be measured (i.e., raw materials, energy used/purchased, supplier data). The inventory data is used to assess the energy, water, and materials used, as well as identified environmental releases.
  • Impact Assessment: What is the impact of the lifecycle inventory? Impact assessments take the results of inventories and convert them into more easily understood impact categories, such as global warming potential or carcinogenic potential.
  • Interpretation: What does this all mean? (i.e., How high are our emissions? How do our products compare? Can we improve them? Can we improve our processes? What are the biggest levers for us?)

While not all LCAs need to follow the rigors of these ISO standards, it is useful to incorporate lifecycle thinking such as this into SMM decision-making. In some cases, it might be as simple as considering the potential environmental ramifications of major steps in the value chain. Adopting this lifecycle perspective will help to provide a clearer understanding of the environmental implications of everyday choices.

28 Jul
hazardous waste incinerator
National Incinerator Slowdown

According to Environmental Protection, more than 200 million tons of hazardous waste are generated each year. Much of that hazardous waste is destroyed in permitted, regulated incinerators located throughout the U.S. These incinerators are heavily monitored and have robust emissions management systems in place. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers hazardous waste incineration to be the Best Demonstrated Available Technology (BDAT) for most organic hazardous waste because of how safely and effectively hazardous constituents are destroyed and waste is converted into ash, flue gas, and heat. Frequently, these facilities also have energy recovery systems that capture BTU value from the incinerated waste, resulting in peripheral benefits from the process.

Not only does burning hazardous waste destroy toxic organic constituents, but it also reduces the sheer volume of hazardous waste. Incinerators actually reduce the solid mass of the original waste by 80-85% and volume by 95-96%, decreasing the load placed on landfills while preventing potentially dangerous materials from leaching into the environment.

Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs)

Hazardous waste facilities that treat, store, and/or dispose of waste are known as Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs). Hazardous waste incinerators are regulated under EPA’s Clean Air Act (CAA) and Resource Conservation Recovery Act (RCRA). These facilities must have a permit to construct and operate.

This permit authorizes the types and quantities of waste a TSDF can accept and the treatment, storage, and/or disposal activities that the facility may conduct. It also outlines operating conditions and recordkeeping procedures the TSDF must follow and regulates the emissions that result from the combustion process (e.g., organics, hydrogen chloride (HCl), particulate matter (PM), and fugitive emissions).

There are currently 22 TSDFs in the U.S. permitted to incinerate hazardous waste.

National Capacity

In December 2019, EPA published its National Capacity Assessment Report, which evaluates the nation’s long-term capacity for hazardous waste recovery, treatment, and landfilling and RCRA-permitted commercial TSDFs. According to this most recent Report, the U.S. has sufficient recovery, treatment, and disposal capacity for managing all hazardous waste generated through 2044.

Despite this analysis, however, consolidation and restructuring in the commercial hazardous waste industry has resulted in fewer RCRA-permitted energy recovery facilities, incinerators, and landfills. Additionally, new federal regulations, permit denials, statutory limits on landfills, changes in fire code requirements, allowed disposal methodologies for certain types of hazardous waste, and changing market conditions all have the potential to disrupt TSDF operations and capacity limits.

The continually changing hazardous waste market is creating a fair amount of uncertainty whether hazardous waste management capacity can actually meet demand. Implications of this are evident in the delays currently being experienced for disposal and incineration. Many Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) and Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) are experiencing a hazardous waste incineration slowdown firsthand right now. Most, if not all, of the permitted TSDF incinerator facilities are currently backlogged several months.

One waste management company KTL works with has received letters from five different incinerators stating they will not approve or accept incineration material for 60-90 days and, most likely, through the end of 2021. There is a backup of hundreds of loads of material to incinerate. Shutdowns and outages for maintenance and rebricking have caused some of these issues. Regulators retracting some storage permits has caused a glut of material in need of immediate processing, as well.

This is causing many fuel-blend/solvent-based incineration-destined waste streams to stack up. This presents great cause for concern for some businesses (i.e., LQGs) that may exceed the 90-day LQG storage limits, as set forth in the CAA. If the backlog worsens, SQGs with a 180-day limit for storing hazardous waste onsite (unless travel to dispose exceeds 200 miles) might also have reason for concern.

What You Can Do

If you are an LQG or SQG being adversely impacted by this backlog and reaching your storage limits, it is important to take the actions necessary to remove the risks of compliance penalties and fines. This starts with:

  • Knowing what waste and volumes you have onsite.
  • Being proactive. Do not wait to dispose of your waste and allow for plenty of time for scheduling issues. It will be easier to dispose of smaller amounts than larger quantities.
  • Evaluating the different disposal alternatives (e.g., fuel blending) and making sure you have secondary disposal options.
  • Documenting everything.

If you are in the situation where you are coming up against your time limits, contact your EPA Regional Administrator and ask for guidance on how to manage the situation. Considering writing a letter to the EPA Regional Administrator (ECAD/CB/RCRA) detailing hazardous waste management concerns:

  • Include dates, quantities, and waste descriptions.
  • Document correspondence with all incinerators you contact.
  • Document all other disposal options considered and evaluated.
  • Inform EPA of the ongoing plan for safe storage of hazardous waste during the lag in disposal options.  

Facilities must keep very careful and accurate records of all hazardous waste information to demonstrate appropriate management. Once the waste is eventually shipped off site, facilities should once again notify the EPA Regional Administrator with details, especially if it takes more than 30 days.

KTL is actively engaged with EPA and having ongoing conversations with hazardous waste disposal vendors to assist our customers through this difficult challenge. The risk of penalty is great, and we are working diligently to provide guidance, support, and regulatory assistance to navigate this situation as safely and compliantly as possible.

28 Jul
Food Supply Chain
FDA’s Focus on Food Traceability

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 48 million Americans—about one in six—get sick with a foodborne illness every year. Of that number, CDC estimates 128,000 end up hospitalized and 3,000 will die from a foodborne disease. Correspondingly, consumers rank safety higher than anything else (e.g., affordability, healthful eating) when selecting a restaurant. Consumers want—and need—to know more about their food. 

It is not surprising, given this information, that improving food traceability is a key objective for the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Food traceability is the ability to track any food through all stages of the supply chain—production, processing, distribution—to ensure food safety and operational efficiency. Over the past year, the Agency has launched three major initiatives to create safer and more traceable food supply chain.  

Read KTL’s recent article in Food Safety Magazine about these initiatives and FDA’s focus on food traceability.

21 Jul
sustainable materials management
Creating Sustainable Impacts Part 1: SMM vs. IWM

How we use materials and products is a large factor in energy use, climate change, raw material consumption, and our economic stability. Correspondingly, our consumption habits play a major contributing factor to all these statistics, as cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

  • Between 1970 and 2004, worldwide greehnouse gas (GHG) emissions increased by 70%.
  • The U.S. consumed 57% more materials in the year 2000 than in 1975.
  • With less than 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. was responsible for about one-third of the world’s total material consumption from 1970-1995.
  • In 1900, 41% of materials used in the U.S. were renewable. By 1995, only 6% of materials consumed were renewable.
  • Of all the materials the U.S. consumed in the past 100 years, more than half were consumed in the last 25 years.

As developing nations continue to industrialize and increase their material consumption, resource demands and pressures on our supply chains will only increase. According to EPA, “the implications of current patterns of material use for the environment (including climate), the economy, and our survival are profound and unsustainable.”

But it is possible to stop this pattern from continuing along this path.  

The Triple Bottom Line

Most entities are familiar with the triple bottom line (TBL) as a framework to measure performance that goes beyond traditional financial metrics to also measure social and environmental performance. At its core, the TBL is a system where economic growth is tied directly to factors that reduce environmental impacts, encourage social justice, and generate financial returns. It is also one of the best indicators of how sustainable an organization is.

By adopting sustainable materials management (SMM), organizations can improve their TBL—reducing their environmental impacts significantly, while still increasing profit—and contribute to the overall sustainability of our world.

Sustainable Materials Management vs. Integrated Waste Management

Identifying and managing wastes is important. If waste is incorrectly managed, there are regulatory compliance risks, exposure risks, and potential financial penalties that can have lasting impacts. This is what Integrated Waste Management (IWM) is about—managing materials after they have reached the end of their useful life and keeping materials out of the landfill to the extent possible.

SMM broadens the ideas behind IWM to examine all the environmental impacts of material production and consumption, not just waste diversion or recyclability. It considers the entire lifecycle (i.e., extracting, manufacturing, distributing, using, and end-of-life management) of a product and/or process.  EPA expands on this concept stating, “SMM is an approach to serving human needs by using/reusing resources productively and sustainably throughout their lifecycles, generally minimizing the amount of materials involved and all associated environmental impacts.” And, subsequently, contributing to the TBL.

EPA cites several ways SMM is different than current IWM approaches:

Sustainable Materials Management (SMM)Integrated Waste Management (IWM)
Seeks the most productive use of raw materials and resources.Seeks to minimize and/or manage wastes or pollutants.
Focuses broadly on impacts of all the lifecycle stages of a material or product (upstream, midstream, and downstream).Focuses on what to do with wastes once generated (downstream).
Concerned with inputs and outputs from/to the environment.Concerned mainly with outputs to the environment.
Goal of overall long-term system sustainability.Goal of managing a single set of environmental impacts.
Responsible parties include everyone involved in the lifecycle of a material or product, including consumers.Responsible parties are those who generate waste.

Regulatory Drivers

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) provides the legislative basis for EPA’s SMM Program. RCRA establishes a preference for resource conservation over disposal. EPA’s Waste Management Hierarch further emphasizes source reduction/waste prevention and reuse over the options of recycling and composting, energy recovery, and treatment and disposal.

U.S. EPA Waste Management Hierarchy

Even with these preferences, the current U.S. environmental regulatory requirements focus largely on controlling end-of-pipe emissions to the air, water, and the land. The regulatory system does not focus on sustainability; as such, current environmental regulations do not require a lifecycle focus when it comes to waste management.

Despite the lack of regulatory requirements, EPA is working to promote efforts to manage materials and products from a lifecycle perspective through the U.S. EPA Sustainable Materials Management Program Strategic Plan: FY 2017-2022 (October 2015) and the related Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead (June 2009) document. The Agency reinforces the need to identify new approaches and better integrate programs to address how materials are extracted and subsequently designed, manufactured, used, and managed at end-of-life to ensure there are sufficient resources to meet not only today’s needs but also those of the future.

One of the best ways an organization can help achieve these goals is to conduct a lifecycle analysis (LCA), which considers potential environmental impacts at every stage of a product’s life. Part 2 of KTL’s series on Creating Sustainable Impacts will dive into conducting the LCA.

12 Jul
Staff Spotlight Kasia Branny
Staff Spotlight on Kasia Branny, Esq.

Get to know our KTL team! This month, we are catching up with KTL Senior Consultant Kasia Branny. Kasia’s expertise is in international and U.S. regulatory and legal compliance. She has worked for nearly 15 years as an attorney and EHS regulatory consultant for clients across the globe. Kasia is based out of the Washington, D.C. metro area.

Tell us a little bit about your background—what are your areas of expertise?

I have a law degree from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland and an LL.M. from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. I joined KTL in January 2021 as a Senior Consultant supporting some of our government contracts, as well as food safety and EHS projects. Prior to joining KTL, I worked with a number of consulting companies as an attorney and regulatory consultant helping clients across the globe address their EHS compliance issues. I have specialized expertise in advising companies on regulatory compliance in the U.S. and internationally; developing regulatory compliance programs; creating audit/assessment content, protocols, and tools; and providing regulatory compliance training.

What types of clients do you work with? What are the biggest issues you see them facing right now?

I work with a diverse cross-section of KTL’s clients—from USAID to food companies needing food safety support to EHS projects for manufacturing organizations.

For several of our clients, one of the biggest struggles they encounter is a limited budget. Unfortunately, this can put new projects on hold until funding is available. With respect to many of the EHS projects I have worked on, COVID-19 has presented many challenges. From regulatory perspective, restrictions/new requirements adopted and imposed on industry have required innovative solutions to comply. As many have experienced, the restriction on onsite audits is one challenge we have had to navigate with our clients. Some audits have been suspended, but in many cases, onsite audits have been replaced by remote audits. We are finding remote audits continue to provide a very viable alternative for many of our clients, even as the COVID restrictions are lifted.

What would you say is a highlight of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job is definitely having a client who is happy with our services and who recommends us to others or for future work.

Another highlight for me is the opportunity to learn new things, which I do on daily basis. Food safety is a new area for me, so there is much to learn! I really enjoy diving into this field, and I have witnessed over the past several months a great interest in the development of electronic Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS). We see many companies in the food industry struggling with data management. For example, just think about the documentation food companies must collect from all their suppliers. That task alone becomes much more efficient with some sort of electronic data management tool. KTL’s Microsoft SharePoint® system provides a simple and intuitive tool that can be easily integrated into a company’s existing operations. There are many data sets and compliance/certification requirements that can be captured, tracked, and managed in a SharePoint FSMS to ensure ongoing compliance.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy working out and try to exercise at least five times a week. I love nature, so I regularly take my kids and my dog for walks, hikes, and trips to the beach in the summer. With my international background, traveling is my passion. Now that COVID restrictions are being lifted, I’m hoping to start traveling again!

Read Kasia’s full bio.

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