January 4, 2021
hand sanitizer being dispensed onto hands

Retailers are experiencing unprecedented shopping habits in light of the pandemic, with a dramatic shift and even greater reliance on online shopping. Despite delivery direct to home, the need to return unwanted, damaged or mislabeled items in the store for a refund remains an all-time high. As per guidelines on federal, state and local levels, many of these items cannot be restocked or resold, and instead must be disposed of compliantly. And since many stores are accepting returned items that were never inventoried at their physical location in the first place, they are facing an increase in RCRA waste volume not previously seen with pre-pandemic shopping habits.

Of all the trending 2020 waste returned to retailers for disposal, perfume, alcohol and hand sanitizer prove to be most challenging given their product and packaging weight and chemical composition. Luckily, US Ecology has an innovative solution in place to help retailers compliantly manage these challenging and increasingly common items: ethanol recovery.

Despite having provided ethanol recovery solutions to all our customer segments for over a decade, retailers specifically have greatly benefited from this alternative solution to disposal in 2020. The process first starts by identifying and segregating products with ethanol from other RCRA hazardous waste in the store. Then the products can be listed on a bill-of-lading for reclamation rather than on a hazardous waste manifest. By doing this, high volumes of heavy wastes are excluded from solid waste and RCRA regulations, thus reducing a customer’s overall generator status. This benefits the customer and enables them to avoid additional complicated regulatory guidelines and paperwork, or an increase in scrutiny and possible fines or fees.

The ethanol recovery process employed by US Ecology allows for the consolidation of waste from multiple retail store locations at our TSDFs, increasing the bulk waste volume and offering greater rates for recovery. The bulk product then moves through a process to separate the liquid product from the packaging. A distillation process ultimately produces ethanol purified to a level available for reuse by manufacturers across the country.

Multiple national retail chains taking advantage of US Ecology’s ethanol recovery program experience a reduction of waste. One large national retailer removed of an average 130 pounds of waste, per store, per retail waste pick-up, for alcohol or perfume. This resulted in at least a half million pounds removed annually from their RCRA waste generator status.

perfume bottles on display

For customers that chose to explore manufacturing hand sanitizer in-house to help combat COVID-19, many initial high-volume batches of ethanol-based product were not approved by regulatory agencies to be proven to help kill the virus, or were mislabeled, and therefore were not approved for public sale. Given the chemical composition, these failed batches of hand sanitizer needed to be safely disposed of to protect human health and the environment. One retailer alone was able to take advantage of US Ecology’s ethanol recovery program and removed over 75,000 pounds of waste from their generator status in approximately six months.

Like many of US Ecology’s innovative waste solutions for retailers, the ethanol recovery process can be customized to fit a customer’s unique needs. To learn more about ethanol recovery, or to learn how our Retail Solutions can help you more safely and compliantly manage your waste, contact Jeff Scott, Director of Retail at jeff.scott@usecology.com or by calling (800) 592-5489.