What is Universal Waste?
Although the term “universal waste” is not one most of us use in our everyday conversations, it is a type of waste we contribute to in our everyday activities. Universal waste is a category of hazardous waste that is managed by both federal and state programs. The federal regulations include four types of universal waste: batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment (i.e. thermostats), and lamps (i.e. fluorescent, high intensity discharge, and neon).
State regulations may vary and can sometimes include different types of universal waste. California, for example, identifies non-empty aerosol cans, cathode ray tubes (i.e. glass ray tubes removed from computers and televisions), and electronics as universal waste. That being said, make sure to check out this comprehensive list from the EPA to ensure you are complying fully with your state’s program!
Now that you know how to identify universal waste at your facility, let’s dive into how it should be stored at a facility and proper disposal techniques!
How to Store Your Universal Waste
Universal waste is required to be stored in a compatible, non-leaking container with a label identifying the type of waste and the accumulation start date. The labeling sounds pretty straightforward, but what does a “compatible, non-leaking container” really mean?
For lamps you may use a covered cardboard box and batteries a covered non-conductive container (i.e. plastic pail). Pesticides should always be stored in their original container with the label because it lists directions for use, ingredients, and first aid steps in case of accidental poisoning. Here are some more type-specific tips:
- If batteries are damaged or leaking, package them individually. Batteries may be mixed together in the same container as long as they are not damaged or leaking.
- Cover battery terminals with duct tape or wrap in a manner capable of preventing discharge
- Pesticides need to be stored on an impervious surface so that it does not seep into the ground and pollute the Earth
- Refrain from crushing lamps as many may contain mercury and by crushing them, your employees could be exposed to mercury inhalation
- Safety Tip! Place kitty litter or oil-absorbent material around mercury containing equipment when storing it in another larger container to protect it from breaking or sudden shocks.
- Label mercury containing equipment with “Mercury – DO NOT OPEN.”
If you would like more tips on properly storing your universal waste, this easy checklist of best practices can be helpful in ensuring your facility meets compliance:
- Use non-leaking, compatible containers
- Properly label container with accumulation start date and type of universal waste
- Ensure containers remain closed when not in use and are not overflowing
- Segregate universal waste in distinct areas
- Have spill kits readily available
- Maintain a log of your universal waste to track accumulation quantities and amounts
- Train personnel handling a facilities’ universal waste to ensure proper handling and disposal techniques
If you’re wondering if your labels are filled out correctly, check out this example below:
After you have created your beautiful, purple universal waste labels, do not just place them and forget about them!
Keep track of your universal waste with a log and ensure you properly dispose of your universal waste within one year from the accumulation start date. So, what happens when industrial facilities do not properly store and dispose of universal waste? Short answer: you risk legal action and steep fines. It’s not worth it!
So you’ve accumulated a year’s worth of used batteries, lamps, and aerosol cans. Now what? The one thing you do not want to do is dispose of your universal waste in a garbage, landfill, or non-hazardous waste facility. Instead, schedule a pick-up with a hazardous waste hauler who will transport these items to a destination facility that recycles, disposes of, or treats universal waste.
Now you’re ready to restart the life cycle of universal waste again!