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ARCHIVED - A Guidance Document for Distinguishing Waste, Recyclable Materials and Products for Regulations Under CEPA 1999

2.0 A Criteria Based Approach

2.1 Approach and Assumptions

At face value, the distinction between a product and a waste is fairly clear. A product is produced intentionally for a pre-determined end use, e.g., to be sold directly, or to be used in a process which creates products that will be sold. The producing facility has an option to produce it, or not, but, without market demand, it would likely not be produced. In simple terms, a waste is a substance or mixture that is no longer useful for its originally intended purpose or is unintentionally created during a production process and which is destined for disposal or required to be disposed.

The question becomes less straightforward, however, when considering substances or mixtures which may or may not have been produced intentionally and cannot be used or sold directly as products, but which could be recycled into a product capable of being used or sold. These are commonly referred to as recyclable materials.

It would be appropriate and useful, however, to consider such recyclable materials as products once they have been recycled to a point where they do not pose a hazard to the environment and/or human health, as compared with the use of virgin substances or alternative materials which would otherwise be used for the same purpose. This notion is consistent with the intent of the EIHWR and IMHWHRM, which is ultimately to avoid risks from of harm to the environment from the effects of improperly managed hazardous wastes. It is also consistent with the waste management hierarchy, in encouraging the recycling of hazardous wastes and minimizing wastes to be disposed.

This guidance document tries to establish distinctions between wastes, recyclable materials, and products. These entities may be considered as a continuum, as depicted in Fig. 1. For the purposes of this Guidance Document, the categories of material forming the continuum are defined as follows:

  • Product: a material that is produced intentionally for a pre-determined end use, i.e., to be sold directly, or to be used in a process which create products that will be sold. Example: acetone produced from primary chemicals to be used as solvent.
  • Waste: a substance or mixture which is no longer useful for its originally intended purpose or is unintentionally created during a production process , and which is either destined for disposal or required to be disposed of. Example: sludge from the processing of used solvents destined for landfilling.
  • Recyclable material: a substance or mixture which is no longer useful for its originally intended purpose or is unintentionally created during a production process, and which is either destined for recycling or required to be recycled but has not yet been recycled. Example: used solvent destined for a solvent recovery process.
  • Recycled material: a material resulting from a recycling operation that may or may not have been processed to a point where it has a use, and does not pose a hazard to the environment or human health through its residuals, as compared with the use of virgin materials. Example: used solvent that has been recycled through filtration and distillation.

Figure 1: Continuum in definition of "products" and "wastes".The continuum from waste destined for disposal to recyclable material to recycled material to product.

However, distinguishing between a recyclable material and a product and determining when recycled material has been sufficiently processed to become a product can be difficult . In the most basic sense, a recyclable material ceases to be a a recyclable material when a recovery or comparable process eliminates or sufficiently diminishes the threat posed to the environment by the original material and yields substance or mixture of sufficient beneficial use. Much of the focus of this document is to address this determination.

In determining whether a recyclable material has become a product, there are two important principles . First, the material must have been processed to a point where it has a defined use that is feasible with existing production processes. Secondly, the material must not pose a hazard to the environment or human health as compared with the use of virgin substances or alternative materials which would otherwise be used for the same purpose.

2.2 Outline of the Criteria

To assist in distinguishing wastes from recyclable materials and recyclable materials from products, a number of criteria have been developed by Environment Canada. These criteria are consistent with those of other bodies such as the OECD and CCME. The criteria fall into the following five categories:

  • origin, purpose and destination
  • degree of processing required
  • residuals and potential hazard
  • standards and quality control
  • economic value and market viability

The categories of criteria are outlined below. Each of the criteria is explained in more detail in section 3.

The origin and purpose of the substance or mixture, and its destination, can help to determine its status. The degree and type of processing are key issues in determining whether a substance or mixture has ceased to be a waste or recyclable material (e.g., simply sorting a waste to meet an industrial specification is generally not considered to be sufficient to render a substance or mixture into a product).

In some situations, the use of these first two categories of criteria will largely determine whether the substance or mixture is a waste, recyclable material or product. However, where the first two categories of criteria do not produce a clear-cut determination, the following three categories of criteria will offer further assistance. They are based upon the above principles of feasibility/consistency and environmental safety.

The possible generation of residual substances and the associated environmental hazard, are indicators as to whether the threat posed to the environment by the original waste has been sufficiently diminished. Reference is made to raw/virgin substances or mixtures that would otherwise be used for the same process and purpose.

Compliance with federal provincial, territorial or aboriginal government laws and/or regulations is based on the principle of consistency cited above. Likewise, conformance with a recognized national/international standard or specification is based on that same principle of consistency, particularly if there is a quality control process governing production. The economic value and market viability of the material is also based on the above principle of consistency. A substance or mixture which has an economic value which is consistently positive over time and viable markets is likely to be processed and sold on a consistent, long-term basis.

2.3 Using the Criteria

It is important to note that the criteria are to be applied in total, and there is no hierarchy among the categories of criteria (see Table 1). This is a reflection of the reality that, in many cases, application of all the categories of criteria will be necessary to establish whether a substance or mixture is a waste, recyclable material or product. In some situations, a substance or mixture may satisfy some of the criteria for being a product, but according to other of the criteria it will more resemble a waste.

It is therefore recommended that, after applying all of the criteria, an overall consideration be made as to the status of the material (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Applying the criteria for distinguishing wastes from recyclable materials and products
The 5 types of criteria: 1. origin, purpose and destination, 2. degree of processing, 3. residuals and potential hazard, 4. standards and quality control, 5. economic and market viability