Labeling & Containment

If your facility generates dangerous waste, you must label it properly. Labeling is one of the most common compliance violations, and the easiest to avoid.

Good labeling will keep your employees safer and help ensure your waste is disposed of properly. Waste containers for hazardous materials such as used oil, spent antifreeze, fluorescent light tubes, and shop towels must be labeled. 

Be sure you follow the current label requirements, including:

  • The words "dangerous waste" or "hazardous waste."
  • Showing all hazards and their nature.
  • Accumulation start dates (except for satellite accumulation area containers).

Labeling and size requirements

The container size determines how large you need to make your labels.

Text-only labels 

You may label your containers entirely with text-only labels. If you do, the lettering may have a size or visibility requirement depending on the container size.

Pictograms

Hazard labels are often pictograms (pictures) that may or may not include text. If you choose to display a hazard label that uses a pictogram, make sure it is clearly recognizable. 

Use the guidance below to clearly label your containers and follow size requirements.

Large containers*LargeContainer

*Greater than 1 gallon or 4 liters

  • "Hazardous waste" or "Dangerous waste" legible from 25 feet or lettering at least 0.5 inches high
  • Hazard labels (with pictograms) recognizable from 25 feet, or (text-only) legible from 25 feet or lettering at least 0.5 inches high
  • Accumulation start date has no size requirement

Small containers*SmallContainer

*Less than or equal to 1 gallon or 4 liters 

  • "Hazardous waste" or "Dangerous waste" sized appropriately for the container
  • Hazard labels (with pictograms) or (text-only) sized appropriately for the container
  • Accumulation start date has no size requirement

Other labeling rules

Department of Transportation

U.S. Department of Transportation requires other labels for waste you ship off site. For a quick reference, see DOT Chart 15: Hazardous Materials Markings, Labeling and Placarding Guide.

Universal waste

Containers with universal waste (batteries, fluorescent bulbs and tubes, and mercury-containing equipment) must be labeled with the words "universal waste" and the specific type of waste.

Satellite accumulation area

Any containers in a satellite accumulation area must be labeled with the words "dangerous waste" or "hazardous waste" and the hazard(s); and they must meet the size and legibility requirements. Once a container has 55 gallons of dangerous waste (or 2.2 pounds of certain types of waste), you must label it with the accumulation start date.

 

Frequently asked questions

How do I make a label?

Ecology offers free labels you can print and attach to your waste containers. However, you aren't required to use any specific label designs or hazard symbols under the dangerous waste regulations. Any label will work, as long as it meets the size and legibility requirements. Covering the labels with clear plastic will make them last longer.

Do labels need to be in color?

The dangerous waste regulations don't specify the color of dangerous waste labels. However, bold or high contrast fonts may help improve legibility.

Can I reuse a label?

No. If you reuse a container for dangerous waste, make sure to remove or destroy the previous label so it's clear what's currently in the container.