They’re all universal waste, and its important to know how to handle them.
Compliance with waste regulations is a must for businesses and other government entities, but as an individual you also have a role to play in properly disposing of materials. The EPA regulates the generation, transportation, and disposal of certain materials in the United States, including universal waste. While we generally don’t have to worry about hazardous waste in daily life, we should be aware of universal waste.
Universal waste is any material or product that contains small quantities of regulated substances, but they themselves are not regulated. Think of it like this: one of the ingredients in your recipe is regulated, but the product your recipe makes isn’t. Your cookies aren’t regulated, just the chocolate chips. If you were to bake enough chocolate chip cookies, you could reach the threshold amount of chocolate chips. A great real-world example is light bulbs and mercury. Fluorescent light bulbs contain tiny amounts of mercury, which is dangerous to human health and the environment. Fluorescent light bulbs are not necessarily regulated, but mercury is. If you gather up enough fluorescent light bulbs, the amount of mercury you have collectively is now considered hazardous. Final note: chocolate is not considered hazardous or universal waste!
The quick guide below can help you identify common universal waste found in apartments and houses.
Lamps & Light Bulbs
The Code of Federal Regulations defines a lamp as the bulb or tube portion of an electric lighting device. A lamp is specifically designed to produce radiant energy most often in the ultraviolet, visible, and infra-red regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Common universal waste lamps include:
- Fluorescent lights
- Neon lights
- High-intensity discharge lamps
- High-pressure sodium lamps
- Mercury vapor lamps
A battery is defined as a device consisting of one or more electrically connected electrochemical cells which is designed to receive, store, and deliver electric energy. Batteries have an anode, cathode, and an electrolyte, plus such connections (electrical and mechanical) to allow the cell to deliver or receive electrical energy. The term battery also includes an intact, unbroken battery from which the electrolyte has been removed. In general most batteries meet the criteria for universal waste, with one notable exception: de-energized lead-acid batteries such as car batteries. Here are a few types of batteries to watch out for because they are considered universal waste!
- Nickel-Cadmium or NiCd
- Metal Hydride
- Lithium ion or lithium buttons
- Mercuric Oxide
- Zinc Air
- Silver Oxide
The Code of Federal Regulations defines an aerosol can as a non-refillable receptacle containing a gas compressed, liquefied, or dissolved under pressure, the sole purpose of which is to expel a liquid, paste, or powder and fitted with a self-closing release device allowing the contents to be ejected by the gas. Often aerosol cans contain propellant gases such as propane or butane which can be hazardous due to their potential ignitability. Aerosol may be considered universal waste if they meet the criteria of 1) hazardous waste, 2) Ignitability, 3) Corrosivity, 4) Reactivity, 5) Toxicity. If the aerosol meets any of these, it very well could be universal waste. If the aerosol can meets the criteria for ’empty’ then it is no longer considered universal waste. Here are some things to ask before disposing of an aerosol:
- Is the container empty? Look for residues or check the weight of the container.
- Are the contents flammable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic?
- Does the label have specific disposal instructions?
A pesticide is defined as any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest, or intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant. There are a few exceptions for animal drugs listed in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act(FFDCA). Pesticides that are recalled are immediately considered waste, as are canceled pesticides and those which are no longer compliant with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act(FIFRA). Universal waste regulations don’t apply to pesticides that are non-hazardous or non-waste materials.
Remember to always check safety information on pesticide products to protect your health, the health of others and the health of the environment!
Electronics and equipment that contains mercury is an important category of universal waste. Mercury is a dangerous substance, and exposure to it can lead to serious injuries and even death. A mercury-containing device is defined as a device or part of a device (including thermostats, but excluding batteries and lamps) that contains elemental mercury integral to its function. This includes old thermometers and cathode-ray tubes which are components of old TVs and computer monitors. It is especially important to properly dispose of mercury-containing equipment because mercury bioaccumulates. Once mercury reaches the environment, it can start to concentrate as it moves up the food chain. The increasing concentration at higher trophic levels can lead to mercury concentration in foods that is unsafe. Always use caution when disposing of mercury equipment!
Have questions about universal waste? Looking for advice on how to dispose of something? Contact the Safety & Sustainability team!
EHS Director: Ronnie Souza | email@example.com | 207-602-2488
Associate Director of Sustainability: Alethea Cariddi | firstname.lastname@example.org | 207-602-2507
EHS Specialist: Peter Nagle | email@example.com | 207-602-2791
EHS Specialist: Davis Martinec | firstname.lastname@example.org | 207-602-2046