Universal Waste Management

Universal waste is a subset of hazardous waste and contains mercury, lead, cadmium, copper and other substances hazardous to human and environmental health. Universal wastes are generated from a wide variety of sources (i.e., individuals, government agencies, hospitals, businesses, etc.) in a variety of settings, not just in traditional industrial settings.

In 1995, U.S. EPA developed an alternate, streamlined management program to encourage the collection and recycling of these commonly generated hazardous wastes. The federal universal waste regulations can be found in 40 CFR Part 273. Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has adopted the federal universal waste regulations by reference with a few additional requirements. The DEQ regulations can be found at 9VAC20-60-273

Managing qualifying hazardous wastes as universal waste is optional. Generators have the choice to manage hazardous wastes that fit into the categories of universal waste as universal wastes in Part 273 or under the full set of hazardous waste regulations.

Goals of the Universal Waste Regulations

The universal waste regulations were developed with several interrelated goals in mind:

  • To encourage the recycling of the categories of wastes designated as universal waste.
  • To improve the management of certain types of hazardous wastes.
  • To reduce the amount of hazardous waste that ends up in solid waste landfills and combustors.
  • To ease the regulatory burden on the facilities that manage these wastes, particularly by allowing more time for accumulation of these wastes in order to facilitate appropriate recycling or disposal.
  • To ensure that these wastes go to appropriate treatment or recycling facilities.

Categories of Universal Waste

Universal waste is a subset of hazardous waste and includes the following categories of wastes:

  • Mercury-containing equipment – devices that contain elemental mercury integral to their function. Includes thermostats, but does not include batteries or lamps.
  • Pesticides – substances that are intended for preventing or mitigating pests or intended for use as a plant regulator or defoliant. Excludes animal drugs and animal feed containing animal drugs.
  • Batteries – devices consisting of one or more electrically connected electrochemical cells designed to receive, store and deliver electric energy. Includes nickel cadmium batteries and lead acid batteries.
  • Lamps – bulbs or the tube portion of electric lighting devices that are specifically designed to produce radiant energy. Includes mercury vapor lamps, fluorescent light bulbs, and neon lights.

The applicability of the universal waste requirements to each category of waste described above can be found in 40 CFR Part 273 Subpart A.

Universal wastes that are mixed with hazardous wastes are fully regulated as hazardous wastes. Mixtures of universal waste and conditionally exempt small quantity generator waste or household hazardous waste can be managed under the universal waste requirements since these hazardous waste are not subject to full hazardous waste regulation.

Advantages of Managing Hazardous Wastes as Universal Wastes

  • Universal waste volume is not included when determining hazardous waste generator status. This may benefit some companies by allowing them to reduce their generator status level which in turn would reduce their generator regulatory requirements.
  • Universal waste can be accumulated for up to one year which is a longer accumulation time than allowed for small quantity and large quantity generators of hazardous waste.
  • Less labeling is required on universal waste.
  • A hazardous waste manifest is not required to accompany a universal waste shipment in Virginia or within any other state that recognizes it as universal waste.
  • Less recordkeeping is required.
  • A shipment of universal waste can be transported via a universal waste transporter rather than a hazardous waste transporter.

Universal Waste Handler Requirements

The universal waste regulations create two groups of generators of universal waste, called handlers, based on the amount of universal waste accumulated on-site. Universal waste handlers are not just those that generate or produce universal waste, but also those who receive universal waste from other handlers. Below is a description of the two universal waste handler groups – Small Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste and Large Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste and the main requirements each must comply with. A full description of handler requirements can be found in 40 CFR Part 273 Subparts B and C.

 
Small Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste - accumulate less than 5,000 kilograms (or about 11,000 pounds) of universal waste at any one time on-site. SQHUWs must comply with the following:

  • Label or mark universal waste to identify the type of universal waste it is (See 40 CFR 273.14).
  • Manage universal waste in a way that prevents releases to the environment.
  • Immediately respond to releases of universal waste and properly manage released waste.
  • Distribute basic waste handling and emergency information to their employees to ensure that their staff is aware of these procedures.
  • Accumulate universal waste for no more than one year.
  • Comply with export requirements for foreign shipments.

SQHUWs are not required to notify DEQ of their universal waste management activities, not required to keep records of universal waste shipments, and not required to use a hazardous waste manifest for off-site shipments of universal waste.  However, DEQ recommends keeping records of universal waste management as a best management practice. Handlers must comply with U.S. DOT hazardous materials requirements, if applicable.

Large Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste -  accumulate on-site 5,000 kilograms or more of universal waste at any one time. The designation as a LQHUW is retained for the remainder of the calendar year in which the 5,000-kg threshold was exceeded, and may be reevaluated in the following calendar year. Handlers must comply with the following:

  • Label or mark universal waste to identify the type of universal waste (See 40 CFR 273.34).
  • Manage universal waste in a way that prevents releases to the environment.
  • Immediately respond to releases of universal waste and properly managed released waste.
  • Ensure that all employees are thoroughly familiar with proper waste handling and emergency procedures relative to their responsibilities during normal facility operations and emergencies.
  • Accumulate universal waste for no more than one year.
  • Comply with export requirements for foreign shipments.
  • Notify DEQ and obtain an EPA identification number if they do not already have one.
  • Maintain records of all universal waste shipments received by and sent from the facility and retain these records for three years.

Handlers are not required to use a hazardous waste manifest for off-site shipments of universal waste, but must comply with U.S. DOT hazardous materials requirements, if applicable.

Waste Specific Management Requirements

Each type of universal waste has specific management requirements designed to prevent releases to the environment that handlers must comply with. These standards can be found in 40 CFR Section 273.13 for SQHUWs and Section 273.33 for LQHUWs. Additionally, these sections discuss those activities that universal waste handlers can perform under the universal waste regulations such as ampule removal from mercury containing equipment and mixing or discharging batteries and what standards they have to follow in order to do them.

Universal Waste Lamp Crushing for Size Reduction

DEQ allows the use of lamp crushing devices meeting certain standards of operation under the DEQ universal waste regulations. The specific requirements for applicability, management and use of lamp crushing devices can be found at 9VAC20-60-273 and 9 VAC 20-60-1505. Additional information regarding lamp crushing in Virginia can be found in DEQ’s Universal Waste Mercury-Containing Lamp Crushing Guidance.

Universal Waste Transporter Requirements

The universal waste regulations also provide for reduced requirements in 40 CFR Part 273 Subpart D for transporters of universal waste. Such transporters are persons who transport universal waste from handlers to other handlers, destination facilities, or foreign destinations. A universal waste handler no longer has to use a permitted hazardous waste transporter to ship their universal waste, but rather can utilize a universal waste transporter. Additionally, handlers can self transport as long as they meet the Subpart D requirements. Hazardous waste manifests are not required for universal waste shipments, but transporters must comply with applicable U.S. DOT hazardous materials requirements, which may include shipping papers. Additionally, a universal waste transporter must immediately contain all releases of universal waste and must comply with export requirements for foreign shipments. Finally, storage of a universal waste at a transfer facility is limited to ten days or less. If a universal waste transporter stores universal waste for more than ten days, the transporter becomes a universal waste handler and must comply with the applicable handler requirements while storing the universal waste.

Universal Waste Destination Facility Requirements

Universal waste destination facilities are those facilities that treat, dispose of, or recycle universal waste. The universal waste regulations do not provide regulatory relief for universal waste destination facilities. These destination facilities are subject to full hazardous waste regulation as treatment, storage, and disposal facilities including permitting, general facility standards, and unit-specific standards. Destination facilities that recycle universal waste without prior storage are subject to regulation under 40 CFR §261.6(c)(2). Under the universal waste requirements found at 40 CFR Part 273 Subpart E, destination facilities must retain records of all universal waste shipments received by and sent from the facility for a period of three years. Within the Subpart E requirements, there are also steps for a destination facility to follow when rejecting a shipment of universal waste.  Mercury-containing lamp recycling facilities must also comply with all applicable requirements found at 9 VAC 20-60-264. B.34 and 9 VAC 265.B.21

Related DEQ Programs and Guidance

Other Resources

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000


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