Universal Waste

Written by Shirley Parker
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Universal waste is made up of a number of items considered hazardous waste but for which EPA has granted streamlined collection requirements. Currently, universal waste includes the categories of batteries, pesticides, lamps, and thermostats that contain mercury. At this time, equipment that contains mercury, such as switches, barometers, temperature gauges and sprinkler system contacts, is not permitted as universal waste. However, these items are under consideration for being added to the list.

Explicit regulations exist for each current category of universal waste: for example, nickel-cadmium batteries and small batteries like those used in cellphones, laptop computers, and other electronic equipment. Agricultural pesticides that are no longer needed or have been banned are subject to specific collection guidelines. Thermostats, which are found in business, residential, or community buildings, must be collected, following exact definitions and rules for them, since they contain quite a lot more mercury than most of us realize--up to three grams.

Some lamps are considered hazardous because they contain mercury or lead. Some that are familiar to most of us include fluorescent tubes, neon lighting, and mercury vapor lamps. Other electric lighting devices with a hazardous part include metal halide, high pressure sodium, and high intensity discharge lamps.

Universal Waste Regulations to Assist Businesses

Universal waste covers such widely used items that a way had to be found to speedily collect and recycle them. Retail stores that took such hazardous items in exchange, or used large numbers of them in the regular operation of the stores, needed a way to get this type of hazardous waste to a proper waste management site rather than a landfill or incinerator. States are not entirely bound by the federal regulations. They can add more wastes and don't have to include all of the items on the EPA list. Individual consumers will need to know their state laws, but as collection sites are set up, it helps if they, too, take universal waste to such centers instead of putting them in household trash.

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