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What you need to know
Nearly every industry handles universal waste. From fluorescent light bulbs to batteries, everyday objects can have a harmful effect on the environment if they are not properly recycled. Stay compliant with local regulations, avoid costly hazardous waste expenses, and protect our planet with custom universal waste solutions for every type of business.
What is universal waste?
Universal waste is a classification of hazardous waste used to incentivize businesses to recycle potentially dangerous materials. Beyond meeting state and federal requirements, recycling waste can make a serious difference—especially if your waste contains mercury (common in universal waste items). Just a quarter of a teaspoon of mercury can contaminate all the fish in a 20-acre lake. Recycling universal waste is a comprehensive solution to keeping dangerous materials out of our landfills and natural resources.
Is universal waste the same as hazardous waste?
Yes and no. Universal waste regulations were created to increase recycling of common hazardous waste materials. This important distinction means businesses can recycle more waste without the high costs and regulatory burdens associated with hazardous waste. Both small and large quantity handlers can accumulate universal waste for up to a year, and the labeling requirements are much simpler to follow. Employee training on how to manage universal waste also isn’t as formal as hazardous waste.
Is my business affected by universal waste regulations?
Do you use a lot of lamps, light bulbs, batteries, or electronics? If so, there’s a high probability that you’re required to meet certain regulations, depending on your business classification. The amount of universal waste you produce, along with your state’s regulations, determine which class you fall under. Small Quantity Handlers store less than 11,000 lbs. of universal waste on-site, and Large Quantity Handlers store 11,000 lbs. or more. If you don’t fit into either category, you may qualify for streamlined standards as a Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator—depending on your location.
What materials are considered universal waste?
There are many variations depending on where you live. Colorado and California, for example, categorize non-empty aerosol cans as universal waste. Texas puts paint and paint-related wastes in the same bucket. Some common types include:
- Electronic devices, such as computer monitors and cell phones
- Batteries, including alkaline and rechargeable ones
- Lamps and fluorescent light bulbs
- Aerosol cans
- Mercury-containing equipment, such as thermostats and pressure gauges
The best way to determine what qualifies as universal waste in your state is by visiting the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
What is “mercury-containing equipment” and how is it managed?
Thermostats, thermometers, barometers, and even pressure gauges are all examples of mercury-containing equipment. Mercury is exceptionally hazardous, ranking just below arsenic. Despite the dangers, fluorescent light tubes are one of the most widely used mercury-containing pieces of equipment. Low energy use and their long life span compared to incandescent bulbs keep these lights in rotation. Even though they’re common, it’s important to remember these materials are still incredibly toxic if not handled with care. Mercury must be kept in closed, airtight containers that show no signs of leakage or damage.
Committed to a world
Rubicon’s mission is to end waste, in all of its forms. No matter its size, every business can commit to more sustainable business practices.
A place for every piece
No matter what’s in your bin, we know what to do with it. We offer the most cost-effective disposal solutions, transport waste safely, and find new uses for materials, including recycling and converting waste into energy.
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