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Are All Pesticides Universal Waste Under RCRA?

Posted on 2/24/2022 by Roseanne Bottone and Roger Marks

The RCRA hazardous waste regulations define pesticide as follows:

“Any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest, or intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant…”

[See 40 CFR 273.9]
Note: There are explicit exceptions to this definition of pesticides—mainly for animal drugs.

How Do Pesticides Become Wastes?

Only unwanted, unused pesticides are disposed of or recycled. Once a pesticide is used, we don’t collect the substance back to dispose of it—it’s gone for good, from a waste management standpoint.

A pesticide becomes a waste when:
  • A facility participates in a recall of the pesticide; or
  • a facility decides to discard it.   

Are All Pesticides Hazardous Waste?

No. A pesticide is a hazardous waste only when:
  • Its sole active ingredient is found on the P or U list (40 CFR 261.33); or
  • it exhibits a hazardous waste characteristic (i.e., ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or toxic). 
In short, many pesticides never become wastes. Of those that do become wastes, only some are hazardous wastes.

Are All Hazardous Waste Pesticides Universal Waste?

No. Review the scope of the universal waste standards in 40 CFR 273.1 and you will find that only very specific types of pesticides are considered universal waste. Listed with certain batteries, lamps, aerosol cans, and mercury-containing equipment, we find that “pesticides as described at 273.3” may be managed as universal waste.fun


40 CFR 273.3 describes two types of pesticides: 


1. Recalled pesticides. The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) authorizes EPA to recall pesticides for a variety of reasons. Recalls are one of the major ways pesticides become a waste. This includes stocks of suspended or canceled pesticides that are part of voluntary or mandatory recall initiated under FIFRA Section 19(b), including: 
  • Pesticides owned by the registrant responsible for conducting the recall,
  • Stocks of a superseded or canceled pesticides, and
  • Noncompliant pesticides subject to voluntary recall. 
US EPA announces current pesticide recall alerts on a Pesticide Alerts web page.

2. Stocks of other unused pesticide products collected as part of a waste pesticide collection program. Many states oversee pesticide disposal programs for farmers and commercial users, often called “Clean Sweep” programs. 

Hazardous waste pesticides that do not meet the criteria as universal waste must be managed according to the RCRA standards applicable to the facility’s generator status or category.  

Facilities that generate hazardous waste must comply with stringent management standards such as obtaining an EPA ID number, contingency planning, regular inspections, reporting and recordkeeping, personnel training, and more.  

About 1 in 10 RCRA hazardous waste violations involves universal waste.
Check out the 4 Common Universal Waste Mistakes report to identify and avoid the most common errors and ensure compliance with the universal waste standards for covered aerosol cans, batteries, lamps, mercury-containing equipment, and pesticides. 

RCRA Hazardous Waste Training

US EPA requires annual RCRA training for hazardous waste personnel at large quantity generator facilities. Lion makes it easy to meet your RCRA training mandate in a variety of formats—nationwide public workshops, convenient online courses, live webinars, and on-site training.

Browse RCRA training options and find the course that fits your needs, your schedule, and your learning style.

Tags: hazardous waste management, pesticides, RCRA, universal waste

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