To Avoid Penalties Ensure they are Handled Correctly

To streamline environmental regulations for wastes generated by numerous sources in relatively small quantities, USEPA issued the Universal Waste Rule in 1995. This rule is designed to reduce the amount of hazardous waste in the municipal solid waste stream, to encourage the recycling and proper disposal of some common hazardous wastes and to reduce the regulatory burden on generators.

The New York Universal Waste Rule (UWR), 6 NYCRR Part 374-3, provides an alternate method for managing certain common types of hazardous wastes that otherwise would be subject to all applicable requirements of New York’s hazardous waste rules found at 6 NYCRR Parts 370 through 374 and 376. Handlers may choose to manage eligible wastes under the UWR, or under ordinary hazardous waste regulations.

In New York State the following hazardous wastes may be managed as Universal Waste (UW):

  1. Batteries, including lead/acid, lead, nickel-cadmium, silver, lithium or mercury.
  2. Certain pesticides that would otherwise be a hazardous waste.
  3. Thermostats and other mercury-containing equipment (MCE).
  4. Hazardous Lamps

Universal wastes are generated not only in the industrial settings usually associated with hazardous wastes, but also in a wide variety of other settings, including households, schools, office buildings, and medical facilities. Although handlers of universal wastes must meet less stringent standards for storing, transporting, and collecting wastes, the wastes must comply with full hazardous waste requirements for final recycling, treatment, or disposal. This approach helps to remove these wastes from municipal landfills and incinerators, providing stronger safeguards for public health and the environment.

Universal Waste Generators. Requirements include packaging in a way to minimize breakage; immediately cleaning up any leaks or spills; and properly labeling containers.

Universal Waste Transporters. Requirements include meeting applicable DOT standards; complying with record keeping and reporting requirements; and complying with applicable requirements of 6 NYCRR Part 364 if transporting more than 500 lbs. of total universal waste in any shipment. Common carriers can transport up to 500 lbs. of universal waste in any shipment.

 Destination Facilities. Destination facilities must comply with all applicable requirements of 6 NYCRR Parts 370 through 374-3 and 376, including notification of hazardous waste activity and obtaining a Part 373 (hazardous waste) permit, if applicable.

Answers to Common Questions

  1. How do I know if my lamps are hazardous?
    Because of their mercury content, most fluorescent lamps in current use are considered hazardous wastes when taken out of service for disposal. Other lamps that are commonly classified as hazardous waste due to the presence of mercury or lead include high-intensity discharge (HID), neon, mercury vapor, high pressure sodium, and metal halide lamps. If you want to know for sure, you can have them analyzed by a laboratory test called the “Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP).” Most major manufacturers are now producing a line of fluorescent lamps which they claim are non-hazardous low-mercury or “green end cap” lamps. When these bulbs are taken out of service, manufacturer’s data may be used to help determine if they are a hazardous waste.
  2. How do I handle low-mercury fluorescent lamps?
    Under Chapter 145, Laws of 2004, “Mercury-Added Consumer Products Law,” even low-mercury (green end cap) lamps are subject to certain management standards. Under this law, defined Small Businesses may discard of up to fifteen low-mercury lamps per calendar month. If the non-hazardous lamps are commingled with universal waste lamps, all of the waste is regulated as universal waste. The Department strongly encourages the recycling of any lamps containing mercury.
  3. Now that the Universal Waste Rule is available for hazardous waste lamps, must I use it?
    No, handlers of hazardous waste lamps may choose between traditional hazardous waste regulations and Universal Waste Rule standards. However, flip-flopping between the two sets to avoid meeting requirements of one or both regulations is not allowed. For example, both management scenarios include storage time limits. Flip-flopping between regulations will not extend storage time.

A Universal Waste Handler does one or more of the following: generates, receives, stores, accumulates, and/or sends Universal Waste. A Universal Waste Destination Facility treats, disposes of, or recycles Universal Waste. A Universal Waste Transporter is involved in the transportation of Universal Waste.


Kevin C. Murphy is a member of the Wladis Law Firm, P.C., located in Syracuse, New York. If you or your municipality operates a mulch processing facility or any other waste management facilities and have questions or need assistance in complying with new, amended or longstanding solid waste management regulations or any type of environmental compliance, permitting or enforcement issues, including the threat of a potential environmental criminal prosecution, please feel free to contact Attorney Murphy or Attorney Timothy Lambrecht of the Wladis Law Firm. Mr. Murphy previously served as a senior trial attorney with the U. S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section and regularly represents clients in defending against alleged criminal violations of federal, state and local environmental laws.



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Kevin C. Murphy

Kevin C. Murphy concentrates his practice in the areas of environmental compliance and litigation; environmental and white-collar criminal defense, and complex litigation matters. Mr. Murphy is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a former senior trial attorney with both the Kings County (NY) District Attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section in Washington, D.C. He previously taught a seminar on environmental criminal enforcement at the Syracuse University School of Law and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America.

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