Airbag Deployment is Treatment

The Federal EPA recently cited a dealership for deploying airbags prior to disposal in the trash. Deploying airbags prior to placing them in the trash was, at one time, manufacturer recommended and common practice. It is no longer legal to deploy and then dispose of airbags in the trash.

Based on this enforcement action, the EPA is now stating:

  • Airbags and other restraint devices that have not been deployed cannot be disposed of in the trash. Trash disposed airbags can be cited as illegal disposal of a reactive hazardous waste.
  • Dealerships cannot deploy airbags to make them safe for trash disposal. Deployment of airbags is considered to be treatment of hazardous waste, which legally requires a permit. Hazardous waste permits are impractical for dealerships.

Under the current Federal EPA definition of a “D003” characteristic of hazardous waste, un-deployed Supplemental Restraint Devices (SRS Devices), which include airbags and seatbelt pretensioners, are in fact hazardous wastes when intended for traditional landfill or incineration disposal. Detonation of airbags prior to placing them in the dumpster is then defined as “treatment” of hazardous waste without a permit.

The regulation is stated as follows:

40 CFR §261.23 Characteristic of Reactivity.

(a) A solid waste exhibits the characteristic of reactivity if a representative sample of the waste…

(6) Is capable of detonation or explosive reaction if it is subjected to a strong initiating source or if heated under confinement. –

(7) Is readily capable of detonation or explosive decomposition or reaction at standard temperature and pressure.

(b) A solid waste that exhibits the characteristic of reactivity has the EPA Hazardous Waste Number of D003.

So what are dealers supposed to do with airbags?

  • Recycle: From an environmental and safety perspective, recycling is the best option. As materials sent for recycling never enter the waste stream, your long-term environmental liability is greatly reduced. The deployment of the device is completed at an industrial facility, keeping employees from being exposed to the safety risks of detonating explosive devices on-site. Unfortunately, the options for recycling are still fairly limited. As a result, it may be necessary to ship SRS components. As with shipment of any hazardous materials, this process comes with its own challenges.
  • Dispose as Hazardous Waste: A current, licensed, waste hauler can likely dispose of your SRS components. While this option may be as easy as getting rid of solid waste and used oil, it does come with some long-term liability. The “cradle to grave” nature of hazardous waste disposal means that un-deployed SRS components are a source of liability for your business forever. If your disposal facility pollutes the environment, you may be liable for cleanup costs even if the pollution. This may not be a direct result of your SRS disposal, but because your hazardous waste was disposed there. Additionally, as with any hazardous waste disposal, this option will likely be the most expensive.

If interested in recycling your un-deployed or deployed SRS devices, view the recycling options alongside hazardous waste disposal options at

Vendors covering the Virginia area are included below; however, please understand this is not an endorsement of their services.

Safety Kleen: 800-669-5740

Clean Harbors: 800-444-4244

Cycle Chem (Clean Venture): 410-368-9170

This article is provided by Elizabeth Abbott, KPA Engineer. KPA is an endorsed VADA partner for Environment & Safety services for auto dealers. If you have additional questions or would like to inquire about services please contact KPA by phone: 800.853.9695 / email: