Here Are the Right Ways to Dispose of Your Spa's Hazardous Waste

Here are the safe ways to dispose of hazardous materials from your spa // Photo Credit: Happycity21/iStock/Getty Images Plus

When you think of beauty products, the last thing you probably think about are harmful, toxic materials. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates several beauty products as hazardous waste. While there’s not too much to worry about–most of these products are safe enough for everyday use–it is important for beauty salon, spa or store owners to recognize that many materials require special disposal. 

Hazardous materials in any setting should never be poured down the sink, onto the ground, into storm drains or put out with the regular trash. When this happens, those materials can end up hurting customers, employees, the environment and your overall brand. Additionally, improper disposal can be a costly mistake. The EPA has given more than $4.6 million in fines in the last four years while conducting small business inspections for mislabeling hazardous waste or improper disposal. Not to mention, multi-site retailers in California were handed out $34 million in fines last year alone. 

Beauty store, salon, and spa owners should recognize that proper planning year-round is crucial when managing hazardous waste in a safe, compliant, and sustainable manner. When implementing a hazardous waste management program, there are several best practices beauty professionals should consider. But before jumping in, it’s important to have a clear understanding of hazardous waste regulations, as that’s the foundation for every effective program. 


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What is hazardous waste?

The EPA defines hazardous waste as “waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment.” Once an item containing hazardous properties is no longer usable, it is deemed hazardous waste. The EPA regulates hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA) to ensure these wastes are managed in a compliant manner. Enacted in 1976, RCRA requires generators of hazardous waste to be responsible for waste from the time of generation to the final destruction. 

Hazardous waste items have ignitable, corrosive, reactive or toxic characteristics. To determine whether a product is considered hazardous waste, make sure to review its safety data sheet, manufacturer information, label and ingredients. Beauty salon or store professionals can also always refer to specific guidelines provided by your hazardous waste management service provider. 

Many beauty products are regulated as hazardous waste, and therefore, salon owners, beauty store retailers and others in the industry must follow all government-mandated guidelines outlined within RCRA and any other relevant federal, state or local regulations that dictate how to manage and dispose of hazardous waste. 

When beauty stores and salons don’t follow regulations, those businesses run a high risk of receiving expensive penalties. These actions could also have a damaging effect on people, the environment and your brand.

What’s considered hazardous waste in my salon or spa?

A Safety Data Sheet (SDS) is a document that lists information relating to the product’s occupational safety and health information for the use of the product. 

Any products requiring an SDS include chemical components, and technical information about these chemicals is described on the SDS. Wastes that are considered hazardous waste by the EPA because they are flammable often include language similar to: “Products covered by this SDS, in their original form, when disposed as waste, are ignitable hazardous waste, D001, according to Federal RCRA regulations (40 CFR 261). Disposal should be in accordance with local, state and federal regulations.”

Examples of products that may be a RCRA hazardous waste in your beauty store or salon can include, but are not limited to: 

  • Acetone/polish remover
  • Aerosols, including hair spray and quick nail dry
  • Acrylic liquids and powders
  • Adhesives, including cyanoacrylate nail glue
  • Base and top coats
  • Nail polish 
  • Gels
  • Hair coloring, dye and bleach 
  • Dehydrators
  • Disinfectants used to clean hair and nail care equipment, as well as other tools
  • Some soaps and shampoos (state regulated) 
  • Fluorescent bulbs
  • Batteries
  • Electronics

How can I make sure my spa stays compliant with its hazardous waste?

The most important first step beauty store or salon owners should take is making sure a waste management compliance program is set in place. There are several best practices for bagging, segregating and storing hazardous waste items that will help ensure the safety and compliance of your program. 

  • Properly seal items. Prior to storing any hazardous waste items in a bin, place them individually in a sealed plastic bag. This will keep items from mixing and causing a reaction. 
  • Use separate bins. Incompatible hazardous waste items must remain separate. It’s recommended to use designated bins for each type of hazardous waste category: aerosols and flammables, toxics, corrosive acidic, corrosive alkaline (basic), oxidizers, and universal waste. 
  • Label containers properly. Once the initial item is placed within a bin, label the container as hazardous waste and also include the accumulation start date. Should an inspector ever visit your salon, spa or store, proper labeling is one of the first things they will evaluate.
  • Scout a safe storage area. Store accumulation bins in a dedicated, permanent, clean and neatly organized hazardous waste area. Make sure bins are stored away from heavy traffic areas, electrical panels, perishable or consumable product storage and dock doors. 

Once items are stored properly, hazardous waste disposal should be done in accordance with your state and local regulations. Depending on the size of your business, there are two common tracks you can take: 

  • Small businesses can dispose of accumulated wastes on hazardous waste collection days. These days are designated days when residents and other small generators can bring small amounts of hazardous materials to a specified fixed place for the city to collect and dispose of. This is the easiest and most economical way for small users like salons to dispose of old product. Many cities will collect the materials for free or a nominal fee. You should consult your state’s hazardous waste regulations and local resources to find your hazardous waste collection day in your area that will accept waste from small businesses.
  • Larger hazardous waste generators (such as retail stores or salon chains) should work with a knowledgeable, experienced third-party waste partner to ensure proper storage and final disposal, and to mitigate the stressors and potentially costly penalties associated with improper disposal and large-scale compliance.

Ultimately, beauty salon, spa, and store owners should strive to minimize or completely remove the generation of hazardous waste by eliminating as many of its waste streams as possible. By managing hazardous waste in a safe and compliant way by following regulations and partnering with an experienced waste solution, spas are able to ensure the safety of customers, employees, the environment, and its overall brand. 

About the Author: Maricha Ellis is the vice president of marketing and sales operations for Stericycle Environmental Solutions, a leading provider of environmental and regulated waste management solutions. Stericycle is a market leader in waste solutions for most of the Fortune 500 retail companies in the nation.


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