Ask the Expert, Hazardous and Solid Waste

Batteries: Hazardous or Universal Waste?

Specifically, what types of batteries must be managed under hazardous waste regulations and may not be handled as universal waste?

Any hazardous waste battery that is a waste (and is not a lead acid battery being reclaimed) may be managed under the universal waste regulations. There are no hazardous waste batteries that are specifically required to be managed under the hazardous waste regulations. Section 104 of the Mercury Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act (Battery Act) (P.L. 104-142, effective May 13, 1996) affects the collection, storage, and transportation of hazardous waste batteries in these ways:

• It implements the universal waste rules as the governing authority over the management of batteries subject to Section 104 of the Battery Act.
• It preempts existing state regulations regulating the management of such batteries.
• It requires states that wish to regulate the management of such batteries to adopt provisions identical to the universal waste rule.

Batteries subject to Section 104 of the Battery Act (and therefore subject to the universal waste rules) include:

• Used rechargeable batteries
• Lead-acid batteries not reclaimed under 40 CFR 266 Subpart G
• Rechargeable alkaline products
• Certain mercury-containing batteries banned from domestic sale
• Used consumer products containing rechargeable batteries that are not easily removable
• (Batteries typically managed under the universal waste rules include lithium, mercury, silver ion, and nickel/cadmium batteries.)
• Note that these batteries are not subject to the universal waste regulations:
• Lead-acid batteries (e.g., car batteries) being reclaimed under 40 CFR 266.80
• Batteries that are not yet wastes, either because they are not wastes under 40 CFR 261 or because the battery has not become a waste battery
• Batteries that are not hazardous waste (a battery is hazardous waste if it exhibits one or more characteristics identified in 40 CFR 261 Subpart C)

Under the universal waste provisions, used batteries become waste on the date they are discarded—such as when batteries are sent for reclamation. In addition, a battery that is unused becomes a waste on the date the handler decides to discard it.