Universal Wastes

Universal wastes are hazardous wastes that are more common and pose a lower risk to people and the environment than other hazardous wastes. Federal and state regulations identify universal wastes and provide simple rules for handling, recycling, and disposing of them. Examples of universal wastes include:

  • spent batteries,
  • waste pesticides,
  • used fluorescent lamps, and
  • used mercury-containing thermostats.

The actual list of universal wastes in your state may include these items and/or different wastes.

All universal wastes are hazardous wastes and, without the new rules, they would have to be managed under the same stringent standards as other hazardous wastes. Also, universal wastes are generated by a wide variety of people rather than by the industrial businesses that primarily generate other hazardous wastes.

As with hazardous waste generators, businesses that generate universal wastes are divided into categories, depending on the quantity of universal waste they accumulate. Most states recognize two categories:

  • Small quantity handler of universal waste (does not accumulate 11,000 pounds or more).
  • Large quantity handler of universal waste (accumulates 11,000 pounds or more).
Like in most federal environmental legislation, EPA encourages states to develop and run their own hazardous waste programs as an alternative to direct EPA management. With universal waste rules, more state-specific differences exist than with most other environmental regulations because:
  • State adoption of the 1995 federal universal waste rule is optional because the rule is less stringent than the previous hazardous waste requirements under RCRA.
  • States can create different standards (except for batteries due to the Battery Act ), but they have to be equivalent to the federal regulations (i.e., they must provide equivalent protection, cannot regulate fewer handlers, etc.)
  • States may adopt the entire rule or certain provisions, which are:
    • General provisions
    • Provisions for batteries, pesticides, thermostats, and lamps (states do not have to include all of them).
    • Provisions allowing the addition of new universal wastes in states.
The universal waste rule went into effect immediately in states and territories that are not RCRA-authorized including Iowa, Alaska, and Puerto Rico. The purpose of this on-line tool is to provide quick access to:
  • state regulations for universal wastes,
  • contacts at state environmental agencies that can answer your questions, and
  • resources that can help achieve compliance.
Use the pulldown or the sensitive map to find out more about the regulation of universal wastes in your state.

Click on a state's initials:

MarylandAlaskaHawaiiDelawareNew JerseyConnecticutMassachusettsRhode IslandNew HampshireMaineVermontNew YorkPennsylvaniaWest VirginiaVirginiaNorth CarolinaSouth CarolinaGeorgiaAlabamaArkansasTennesseeKentuckyOhioMichiganIndianaLouisiannaWisconsinMissouriIowaMinnesotaIllinoisMississippiNorth DakotaSouth DakotaNebraskaKansasOklahomaTexasNew MexicoColoradoWyomingMontanaIdahoUtahArizonaNevadaCaliforniaOregonWashingtonFlorida