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One of the most commonly known potentially hazardous wastes you can find in homes is batteries. This includes used or spent batteries, such as alkaline or lead-acid car batteries. I know that before I began working for a hazardous waste company I always wondered if I was doing the right thing with my dead batteries.

According to the Duracell website, normal alkaline batteries can, in most cases, be thrown out with your household trash; however, we recommend that you recycle them or take them to an HHW event whenever possible because, although mercury has been removed from most commercial alkaline batteries available today, they still contain toxins that should not be released into the environment.

Additionally, if you do choose to throw away your used batteries, it is important that you do so in small numbers. Even dead batteries are often times not completely drained, so throwing away large quantities of batteries together could still be dangerous. A large group of mostly used batteries can work together to produce a charge.

Lastly, due to the chemicals in battery types other than alkaline, you should make sure to recycle rechargeable, lithium, lithium ion, and zinc air batteries. There are several ways to recycle batteries, and a quick internet search will provide you with plenty of options including Heritage Lifecycle Battery Recycling Kits.

Some examples of the types of batteries you may have in your home are:

  • Car Batteries (Lead-acid)
  • Alkaline Batteries (AA, AAA, C, D)
  • Rechargeable Batteries (Lithium-ion, NiMH, NiCd)
  • Camera Batteries
  • Lithium Batteries
  • Zinc Air Batteries
  • Etc.

So now you know, while it is true that most standard batteries can be disposed of in your regular trash, it is still important to go about it the right way. Throw away only in small quantities and if possible take to a household hazardous waste day instead.

We’ve talked about universal wastes on our blog before but never in much detail. Today, I’m going to break down the four categories to help explain what is included, what is regulated, and where information regarding them can be found in 40 CFR. Before reading on, remember that any state specific regulations may vary and should always be varified with local government. That said, please continue reading for more information about batteries, pesticides, mercury containing equipment, and lamps.

Universal Waste – Batteries 

BatteriesThis includes discarded primary (non-rechargeable) and secondary (rechargeable) batteries that contain elements such as cadmium, lead, or mercury, which would render them RCRA-hazardous.

Examples are nickelcadmium (Ni-Cad), sealed lead-acid, or mercury-oxide batteries. Lead-acid batteries (such as automotive batteries) that are generated, transported, or collected to be reclaimed, or regenerated, but not reclaimed where stored, under provisions of 40 CFR 266, Subpart G, “Spent Lead-Acid Batteries Being Reclaimed,” do not need to be managed as universal waste. However, waste lead-acid batteries not managed, or eligible for management, under 40 CFR 266, Subpart G, are subject to the Universal Waste Rule requirements. Lead-acid batteries that are stored at facilities that reclaim them are subject to RCRA regulation as specified in 40 CFR 266.80(b).

Many commonly generated waste batteries, such as dry cell zinc-carbon and alkaline (“long life”) batteries, typically do not contain appreciable amounts of the hazardous elements of concern, and hence would not be required to be managed as universal waste. However, they may be managed along with universal waste batteries, and this is encouraged in the interest of diverting them from less desirable disposal destinies such as incineration or disposal in solid waste landfills.

Universal Waste – Pesticides

PesticidesSeveral classes of discarded pesticides that would otherwise be regulated as characteristic or listed hazardous waste may be eligible for management under the Universal Waste Rule:

(a) Stocks of unused suspended or canceled pesticides that are subject to a voluntary or mandatory recall under the section 19(b) of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), or a voluntary recall by a registrant of a pesticide that is not in compliance with FIFRA;

(b) Stocks of other unused pesticide products that are collected and managed as part of a waste pesticide collection program.

Pesticides not subject to the prescribed recalls may have to be managed as hazardous waste when discarded. Farmers managing and disposing such pesticides in accordance with the hazardous waste exclusion in 40 CFR 262.70, and complying with prescribed disposal instructions, are not subject to the Universal Waste Rule. Recalled or unused pesticides are not considered waste until a decision to discard them has been made. However, they remain subject to the requirements of FIFRA.

Universal Waste – Mercury Containing Equipment

mercury thermometerThis category was added to the Federal Rule at 40 CFR 273 on August 5, 2005.  It includes devices, items, or articles which contain elemental mercury that is integral to their functions and which would otherwise be regulated as a hazardous waste when discarded by virtue of exhibiting the toxicity characteristic (TC) for mercury (hazardous waste code D009).

Some examples of such items include mercury-containing thermostats (formerly a separate universal waste category in the original rule), thermometers, barometers, mercury switches, and certain types of meters, regulators, and gauges, in which elemental mercury is contained in ampules or otherwise enclosed and can be managed intact. This category does not include cathode ray tubes or other types of electronic equipment in which elemental mercury is not integral to function, nor does it include mercury waste that is generated as a byproduct through the process of manufacturing or treatment.

Universal Waste – Lamps

lampsThis category was added to the Federal Rule at 40 CFR 273 on July 6, 1999. The universal waste lamp category is slightly broader than its predecessor in that it includes lamps that are hazardous for any characteristic, not just for mercury. However, fluorescent light bulbs remain the most common item in this category of universal waste. This category does not include associated light fixture components such as ballasts.

Hazardous waste lamps become subject to this rule if they are hazardous waste under 40 CFR 261, and when they are permanently removed from a fixture or determined to be discarded.

A note about crushing: In adopting the Federal category of universal waste lamps, the Indiana rule has added a prohibition against intentionally breaking or crushing waste lamps that are managed under the reduced requirements of the Universal Waste Rule.

This is a consequence of the interpretation that crushing of hazardous waste bulbs is treatment, which is explicitly prohibited under the Universal Waste Rule (40 CFR 273.11(b) and 273.31(b)). The only circumstance where hazardous waste lamps may be crushed is when they are managed as fully regulated hazardous waste (rather than as universal waste) which is treated (i.e., crushed) in tanks or containers by the generator of the waste under the implied generator treatment allowance in 40 CFR 262.34, and in conformance with all applicable hazardous waste management standards. Check with local government to find regulations like this applicable in your state.

Have you heard the term “universal wastes?” I’ll admit, the first time I did I didn’t know what it meant. For me, the word “universal” really made it seem like it could be anything. Luckily for all of us, I have since learned what it really means.

The EPA has designated four specific wastes that are known as “universal wastes.” These are batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment (like old thermometers), and lamp bulbs.

Both the EPA website and 40 CFR detail the universal waste definitions of each of these waste types. Additionally, they provide regulations that generators of these wastes must adhere to. For reference, these are the EPA definitions of each of these waste types:

  • Batteries – “Battery means a device consisting of one or more electrically connected electrochemical cells which is designed to receive, store, and deliver electric energy. An electrochemical cell is a system consisting of an anode, cathode, and an electrolyte, plus such connections (electrical and mechanical) as may be needed 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.” [1]
  • Pesticides – “Pesticide means 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…” [2] There are some exceptions which can be seen in detail on the EPA website here.
  • Mercury-containing Equipment – “Mercury-containing equipment means a device or part of a device (including thermostats, but excluding batteries and lamps) that contains elemental mercury integral to its function.” [3]
  • Lamp Bulbs – “fluorescent light bulbs and other mercury-containing bulbs…” [4]

As mentioned above, each of these waste types has specific federal regulations associated with it (and possible individual state regulations). The links back to the EPA site will take you to more information about the regulations set out in 40 CFR.

Additionally, a good place to start out with your company is to ensure that all employees are properly trained in universal waste handling regulations and that there is a clear understanding of the different regulations. Doing this will help your company avoid potentially dangerous and costly universal waste violations.