As you may have read recently, about 2.5 million more vehicles have been recalled because of defective Takata airbags. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), by the end of 2019, about 65-70 million Takata airbags will have been recalled.
What does this mean for recyclers, especially those interested in participating in a NHTSA-recall airbag bounty program?
On and effective November 30, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued an interim final rule (IFR), “Safe Management of Recalled Airbags”, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The IFR created a new conditional RCRA exclusion applicable to entities that remove recalled defective Takata airbags from vehicles and ship them off-site for safe deployment. Importantly, because this new conditional RCRA exclusion is federal, most states must specifically adopt it to be effective there. You should check with your state agency.
This RCRA exclusion effectively defers applicability of the hazardous waste regulations onto the immediate downstream entity upon receipt of an airbag shipment at its facility. While covered by the exclusion, those removing and shipping off-site recalled defective Takata airbags are not generators of hazardous waste. These airbags are not regulated as hazardous waste until they arrive at the immediate downstream facility.
However, to qualify and be covered by this RCRA exclusion, you must meet all of the following conditions (paraphrased; see exclusion for precise details):
- You may not accumulate on-site more than 250 airbag modules or airbag inflators (“units”, collectively in this article) or hold any unit longer than 180 days.
- You must package these units in a container designed to address their posed risks and label these packages “Airbag Waste–Do Not Reuse”.
- You must send these labeled, packaged units directly to a facility that is (1) under the control of a vehicle manufacturer or its authorized representative, (2) under the control of an authorized party implementing a NHTSA recall remedy program, OR (3) hazardous-waste permitted or otherwise a RCRA “designated facility”.
- Your off-site shipments must comply during transit with all applicable U.S. DOT hazardous materials regulations.
- You must keep records of all off-site shipments and receipt of shipments for at least three years and make them available for inspection. At minimum, off-site shipment records must contain the transporter’s name, shipment date, name and address of receiving facility, and type and quantity of airbag units (modules and inflators) in the shipment. Similarly, shipment receipt records must contain the name and address of the receiving facility, types and quantity of airbag units received, and date that the shipment was received. Routine business records may be used if they meet these minimum information requirements.
Upon shipment receipt at the facility, the received airbags units become hazardous waste, and the receiving entity becomes their generator for RCRA purposes.
Failing to meet all of these conditions withdraws this exclusion, causing the hazardous waste regulations to be applicable to you. Specifically, reuse of defective airbag modules or inflators under a NHTSA recall is prohibited under this exclusion.
At the same time and importantly, the EPA noted that “[this RCRA exclusion] does not prevent the airbag modules or airbag inflators from being managed under other applicable exemptions as explained in the July 2018 memo”.
The EPA’s July 2018 memo identifies two current recycling scenarios with an applicable RCRA exemption or exclusion. One involves recycling vehicles with undeployed airbag modules still in the vehicles as installed, exempted as recycled scrap metal; this scenario covers both non-defective and defective (e.g., recalled Takata) airbags that remain as-installed in the vehicle during recycling (e.g., shredding). The second scenario involves removing a reusable airbag module or inflator from one vehicle for reuse in another vehicle; such an airbag module or inflator is a product and not regulated by RCRA. This second scenario does not apply to defective (e.g., recalled Takata) airbag modules and inflators because they are inherently not reusable. In another scenario, the exemption for recycled scrap metal applies when a removed reusable airbag module (only) is safely deployed electronically and recycled as scrap metal.
So, before you decide to remove airbag units from vehicles that you recycle, please review how these RCRA regulations apply to your recycling operations, including any applicable exemptions or exclusions. Please know what these regulations require you to do, especially if you intend to remove recalled defective Takata airbags from vehicles to participate in a NHTSA-recall airbag bounty program.
If you have any questions about the IFR or the July 2018 memo, please contact David Wagger, Chief Scientist / Director of Environmental Management, at (202) 662-8533.