Managing Universal Waste-State and Federal Rules

Posted on 4/29/2014 by Ross Kellogg

In 1976, Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), a law authorizing the US EPA to regulate the management of hazardous waste from the point of generation to disposal, or “cradle to grave.” Under RCRA, states can create and administer their own hazardous waste programs, provided the State program is no less protective than the Federal standard. 
All but two states now oversee their own RCRA program. While these State programs are based on the Federal RCRA regulations, many differ in significant ways from the US EPA’s rules. 
One facet of RCRA that many states have “customized” is the universal waste regulations. Under US EPA rules, universal waste includes four common types of waste: batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment, and lamps. The universal waste regulations ensure that these wastes are stored, treated, and disposed of properly and provide certain reliefs for generators, due to the relatively low risk these materials pose.
Federal RCRA Universal Waste Rules 
A number of states have adopted the Federal EPA’s universal waste rules without making any changes. This includes the two states without their own program—Alaska and Iowa—and states like Nevada that adopt certain parts of the US EPA’s regulations by reference. 
Federal universal waste regulations impose specific marking standards in lieu of the normal hazardous waste markings. Generators must mark universal wastes with one of three phrases: “Universal waste _____,” “Waste _____,” or “Used _____.”
Other Federal universal waste regulations under RCRA include: 
  • Prohibition from treatment on site unless specifically authorized,
  • On-site management standards for containment,
  • A one-year time limit for on-site storage,
  • Limited transportation and disposal rules, and
  • A training standard for employees who manage the waste on site. 
          (40 CFR 273.16 and 273.36)
Common State Variations for Universal Waste 
Even in states where the Federal rules have been adopted without changes, the way State inspectors and regulators interpret these rules can vary. In the forty-eight states with unique RCRA programs and universal waste rules, some common differences exist. These common differences include changes to definitions, ID procedures for universal waste, management standards, treatment methods permitted during accumulation, and documentation requirements.
RCRA Universal Waste DrumFor details about your state’s universal waste rules, contact your State regulating agency. Lion Members can log in to and view State hazardous waste LionCasts, brief audio/visual presentations that address each state’s unique hazardous waste rules. 
Alternate Universal Waste Definitions 
Some states follow all of the Federal universal waste rules, but have unique definitions or naming requirements for certain waste. Tennessee, for example, allows generators to name and mark fluorescent lamps as either “lamps” or “bulbs” in conjunction with one of the three approved marking methods listed in the Federal rules. 
[TDEC 0400-12-01-.12] 
State Additions to the List of Universal Wastes
Some states add further categories of universal waste. For example, Pennsylvania allows oil-based finishes to be regulated as universal waste [25 Pa. Code 266b], while Texas allows “Paint and paint-related wastes” [30 TAC 335.261(b)(16)(F)]. These wastes have their own rules for how they are managed on site, similar to the Federal rules. Such management standards typically include storage in the original container or other appropriate packaging that is closed, sound, compatible, and without signs of leaks. 
Some states are known for hazardous waste rules that go above and beyond the requirements of the Federal program. Because of the more restrictive rules in place, these states often provide relief in different areas. For example, in California, aerosol cans may be managed as universal waste. [22 CCR 66273; HSC 25201.16] California’s EPA feels this standard is equally as protective as the Federal rules, because generators must meet certain containment requirements in order to treat (i.e., puncture) their aerosol cans on site.
Allowing On-site Treatment for Universal Waste
In some cases, State regulations permit treatment otherwise prohibited by the EPA under RCRA. For example, the US EPA explicitly prohibits both small and large quantity handlers from treating spent lamps by crushing [40 CFR 273.11 and 273.31]. Yet some states, like Montana, allow for lamp treatment in their rules. The EPA authorizes this State variation, provided the State program includes requirements for controlling emissions of hazardous constituents, in this case mercury, during the lamp treatment process. States that allow lamp crushing must demonstrate that the provisions in place at the State level provide protection of human health and the environment equal to the Federal prohibition. 
Shipping Universal Waste Off Site 
The final step of on-site management is often shipping waste off site for disposal. Under Federal hazardous waste rules, a manifest is not required for universal waste shipments and documentation requirements only apply when a large amount of universal waste is managed on site. Some states, however, require all generators to track their shipments and keep this documentation. Tennessee, for example, requires tracking and documentation for universal waste shipments. [TDEC 0400-12-01-.12] 
Important note: Because the rules can vary from state to state, it is critical for generators to be aware of possible conflicts when preparing interstate shipments. If the destination state for a shipment does not consider it to be universal waste, the waste will likely be subject to the full bore of regulation as a hazardous waste, including manifesting requirements. 
Some states’ hazardous waste rules vary more than others from the Federal standards, and generators must understand the Federal requirements in order to manage waste effectively in any state. To help hazardous waste managers and personnel satisfy the annual training requirement under RCRA, Lion Technology presents the Hazardous/Toxic Waste Management Workshop nationwide. In California, New York, and Texas, Lion Technology presents state-specific hazardous waste workshops designed to cover the unique requirements for generators in those states. 

Tags: hazardous, RCRA, state rules, universal waste, waste

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