Hazardous and Solid Waste

Universal Wastes FAQ Roundup

What are the regulations for taping/protecting the ends of batteries when preparing them for shipment/disposal?

There are no requirements under EPA‘s Universal Waste regulations for taping/protecting the ends of batteries when preparing them to be sent offsite as universal waste. However, a handler of universal wastes (which includes the generator) may manage broken or damaged hazardous waste batteries as universal wastes only if the breakage or damage does not constitute a breach in the cell casing.

Although universal wastes are considered hazardous wastes under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), universal wastes are not considered hazardous wastes under the DOT HAZMAT regulations since they do not require hazardous waste manifests when transported.

That said, if the batteries are not being managed as universal waste, there are packaging requirements for a number of different batteries under DOT‘s HAZMAT regulations at 49 CFR 172.101.

What are the potential fines for failing to comply with the universal waste regulations?

As there is no obligation to manage universal wastes as universal wastes, there are no penalties for not following universal waste requirements. However, the wastes must then be managed as hazardous waste. You can find the federal penalties for violating hazardous waste requirements in the Topic Analysis on Enviro.BLR.com under the topic Penalties/Liabilities.

Also, many states have penalties in addition to the federal.

Are liquid mercury, thermometers, barometers, and switches containing mercury considered Universal Waste, or is it just thermostats, with each requiring a separate label stating: “Mercury-containing (item)”?

As of August 2005, “mercury-containing equipment” has been considered a universal waste. U.S. EPA defines “mercury-containing equipment” as “a device or part of a device (including thermostats, but excluding batteries and lamps) that contains elemental mercury integral to its function.”

According to EPA commentary, the “integral to its function” language in the MCE definition is meant to rule out devices that contain mercury accidentally or devices that have been contaminated by an outside source of mercury. Although not in the regulatory definition of MCE, EPA in commentary lists the following examples of MCE (in addition to thermostats): barometers, manometers, temperature gauges, water treatment gauges, pressure relief gauges, mercury regulators, flow meters, and mercury switches (such as light switches in automobiles). EPA commentary also notes that the definition of MCE does not include mercury waste that is generated through the process of manufacturing or treatment. The universal waste rules retain their definition of a thermostat: “a temperature control device that contains metallic mercury in an ampule attached to a bimetal sensing element, and mercury-containing ampules that have been removed from these devices in compliance with 40 CFR 273.13 or 40 CFR 273.33.”