Hazardous and Solid Waste

Universal Waste Generators and Handlers

By Elizabeth Dickinson,
J.D. BLR Legal Editor


Reminder: Federal universal wastes are batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment, and lamps (e.g. fluorescent bulbs) meeting the definitions of 40 CFR 273.9.  States may add other hazardous wastes to this list and wastes that some states have added include consumer electronics, cathode-ray tubes, aerosol cans, pharmaceutical waste, photographic solutions, oil-based finishes, paint and paint-related wastes, and antifreeze.

Universal Waste Generators Vs. Universal Waste Handlers

Is there a difference between a generator and a handler of universal waste? The short answer is no and, also, yes.  That’s because universal waste handlers are people who generate universal waste as well as people who receive universal waste from generators or handlers and consolidate it before sending it to a facility that recycles, treats or disposes of the universal waste (i.e. a universal waste “destination facility”).

The federal universal waste rule defines a universal waste handler as a:

  • Generator of universal waste, or
  • The owner or operator of a facility that receives universal waste from other universal waste handlers, accumulates universal waste, and sends universal waste to another universal waste handler or to a destination facility or foreign destination.

A generator, for purposes of the universal waste rule,means any person, by site, whose act or process produces listed or characteristic hazardous waste or whose act first causes a hazardous waste to become subject to regulation.  A universal waste is a hazardous waste, just one that EPA allows to be managed under a set of regulations that are less stringent than those for hazardous waste.  In addition to being the person “whose act or process produces” the hazardous waste that is also a universal waste, a universal waste generator can be a person “whose act first causes a hazardous waste to become subject to regulation.” Such an example is a contractor who by removing a universal waste from service (e.g. lamps) is considered a co-generator of the universal waste and, as a result, a universal waste handler.

An example of a universal waste handler that is not also a generator of universal waste is facility that consolidates and/or collects universal waste before sending it on to other handlers, recyclers, or treatment/disposal facilities.

Universal Waste Handler Responsibilities

Do both classes of universal waste handlers (SQHUWs and LQHUWs) have the same responsibilities? Some are the same but, as you might imagine, LQHUW have more responsibilities. Both sizes of handlers have the same requirements is connection with:

  • An accumulation-time limit of 1 year for storing universal wastes
  • Labeling and marking universal wastes
  • Management requirements (i.e. storing in containers or tanks; removing ampules, etc.)
  • Off-site shipments
  • Response to releases
  • Rejected shipments
  • Exporting universal wastes to a foreign destination

A LQHUW has stricter standards than a SQHUW regarding:

  • Notification
  • Tracking/recording shipments (both received and shipped offsite)
  • Employee training


May CESQGs manage their universal waste under the universal waste rule of 40 CFR 273 or must they manage it in accordance with the hazardous waste requirements of 40 CFR 261.5?  EPA gives CESQGs a choice.  CESQGs managing batteries, pesticides, MCE, and lamps meeting the definitions of 40 CFR 273.9 have the option of managing such wastes as universal wastes; they are not required to do so. EPA sees this option as an incentive for individuals and organizations to collect some of the unregulated portions of the hazardous wastestream (CESQG universal waste) and manage them under the simplified universal waste management system developed for the regulated portion of the hazardous wastestream. This option reflects EPA’s desire to minimize the amount of CESQG hazardous waste disposed of in municipal landfills and combustors.

But this option has pros and cons for CESQGs.  Although CESQGs are exempt from most hazardous waste regulations pursuant to 40 CFR 261.5, there are advantages to choosing to manage their universal waste under 40 CFR 273.  One advantage is that the universal wastes do not need to be counted toward the CESQG’s monthly hazardous waste generation quantity limit (40 CFR 261.5(g)).  A disadvantage to choosing the universal waste option is that it necessitates compliance with SQHUW requirements (e.g. storage time limitations, marking requirements, and others described above).  It’s up to the CESQG to weigh the pros and cons of managing their generated universal waste under the universal waste requirements vs. under the CESQG hazardous waste requirements.

Additional Resources:
Universal Waste Handler and Hazardous Waste Generator Requirements

Universal Waste: Handler Training Checklist

Overview of Universal Waste Regulations

Elizabeth M. Dickinson, J.D., is a Legal Editor for BLR’s environmental publications, focusing primarily on hazardous waste related topics. Ms Dickinson has covered environmental developments since 1994. Before starting her career in publishing, she was a corporate and securities attorney at Cummings & Lockwood and at Aetna Life and Casualty, both in Hartford, Connecticut.  She received a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, in English and American Literature and Language from Harvard University and her Juris Doctorate, cum laude, from the University of Connecticut School of Law, where she was an Articles Editor of the Connecticut Law Review.  Ms. Dickinson is licensed to practice law in Connecticut.