Universal Waste

Hazardous waste regulations designate a category of hazardous wastes called “universal waste” (u-waste). This category includes many items, including fluorescent lamps, cathode ray tubes, instruments that contain mercury, batteries, and others.

Until recently, some universal wastes could be disposed in the trash under some circumstances, however this is no longer the case–all u-wastes are now banned from the trash.

Under California’s Universal Waste Rule, households and “conditionally exempt small quantity generators” were allowed to dispose fluorescent lamps, batteries (not lead/acid batteries of the type used in autos), mercury thermostats, and electronic devices to the trash through February 8, 2006, unless the local trash companies or other agencies prohibited it. Large and small quantity handlers are required to ship their waste to either another handler, a universal waste transfer station, a recycling facility, or a disposal facility.

On February 9, 2004, regulations took effect in California that classified all discarded fluorescent lamps as hazardous waste. This includes even low mercury lamps marketed as “TCLP passing” or “TTLC passing.” No one in California is allowed to discard their fluorescent lamps and batteries as nonhazardous solid waste (as ordinary trash).

Televisions and computer monitors also cannot be disposed to the trash. Most televisions and computer monitors are currently considered hazardous waste when they have lived their life and are ready for recycling or disposal, including cathode ray tube (CRT), liquid crystal diode (LCD), and plasma monitors. These items may not be put in the trash.

For a more information about the details of most universal wastes, contact the California Department of Toxic Substance Control. Also see the DTSC Web page on universal waste. For information about electronic waste specifically, see CalRecycle’s e-waste website, Electronic Product Management, or contact ewaste@calrecycle.ca.gov.