Universal Waste

Overview

Universal/Special Wastes

There are many everyday items that are used in offices, shops and laboratories that may contain hazardous components or characteristics that do not allow them to be disposed of in the "normal" trash. If handled properly most of these items can be recycled to help reduce the overall cost of waste disposal. These items that fall within the "Universal/Special Wastes" include:

  • Fluorescent Lamps/Tubes
  • Batteries
  • Mercury
  • PCBs
  • Used Oil
  • Gas Cylinders
  • Aerosol Cans

Certain light bulbs and lamps may contain toxic metals such as mercury that require special disposal. These light bulbs and lamps are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency as Universal Waste lamps. Common examples of universal waste lamps include, but are not limited to, fluorescent, high intensity discharge (HID), neon, ultraviolet (UV), mercury vapor, high pressure sodium, and metal halide lamps. Material safety data sheets are available on all light bulbs, or can be obtained through the M & O Center. These light bulbs become regulated as a hazardous waste when the bulb burns out and is removed from the light fixture. As long as they remain unbroken and can be recycled, they are considered universal waste.

Procedure

  • All universal waste lamps are to be handled and stored in a manner to prevent breakage.
  • The used lamps (unbroken) must be placed into the original box, if possible, or a similar container that:
    • Is structurally sound
    • Must remain closed, except when placing a bulb in the box
    • Is adequate to prevent breakage
    • Lacks evidence of leakage or spillage
  • The box and/or container must be labeled with the words "Universal Waste Lamps" and dated when the waste bulb is placed in the box.
  • While accumulating lamps, the containers and/or packages must be kept closed and stored in the designated "Satellite Accumulation Area for Universal Waste" in your building.
  • Once a box of lamps is full, it must be sealed and transported to the Universal Waste Storage area.

Broken Lamps

Broken lamps are no longer considered universal wastes. The wastes generated from the clean-up operations must be managed in accordance with the College's Hazardous Waste Disposal Procedures. At a minimum the broken lamps must comply with the following:

  • Be placed into a hard-walled container which is sealable
  • The container must be large enough to hold the partially broken bulb - do not allow any portion of the broken bulb to remain outside the container
  • Do not break the bulb further to force it to fit into the hazardous waste container - you may have to use a larger box
  • The container must have a "Hazardous Waste" label with the words "Broken Lamps"
  • Container(s) must remain sealed, except when placing waste into the container.
  • Store this labeled container(s) in your Satellite Accumulation Area until full, then seal and date the container.
  • Transport full, dated, sealed container(s) to Hazardous Waste Storage Area.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL's)

Don't burn out the way incandescent light bulbs do.  Instead, as they near the ends of their lives, they grow dimmer.  While some CFL bulbs merely stop emitting light when they finally quit working, others kick the bucket with a dramatic "pop"! sound and then vent a distinct odor.  A few even release a bit of smoke at their termination.  Sometimes the bases of the bulbs turn black.  This seemingly cataclysmic reaction has to do with the breakdown of the bulb's ballast, which is contained in the part of the bulb that is screwed into the socket.  As the bulb ages and degrades, so does its ballast.  Yet as scary as odors, smoke and even blackening of the base of the bulb might be, these lamps are fireproof and are meant to fail safely at the end of their lives.

National Geographic's Green Guide says of CFLs:  "Bulbs burn out when the ballast overheats and an electronic component, the Voltage Dependent Resistor (VDR), opens up like a fuse in your home's fuse box, shutting off the circuit and generating heat and possibly a small amount of smoke.  This might sound dangerous, but the VDR is a cut-off switch that prevents any hazards.  The melted plastic you may see where the glass coil connects to the ballast is simply a sign that the heat is escaping as intended int he design of the bulb."

In a nutshell, healthy CFL bulbs may emit a bit of smoke and smell and have burnt-looking bases when they die, but that's as it should be -- there's no fire danger to any of that, and indeed the bulbs are functioning properly when they act that way.  It should be kept in mind that any electrical device can malfunction, either through manufacturing defects or as a result of misuse by consumers.

Spill Clean Up

If lamps are broken, care must be taken to minimize exposure to the dust and broken glass. Maintain a lamp spill kit consisting of a plastic bucket with lid, trash bags, small hand broom, dustpan, safety goggles, sponges and gloves near the used lamps. Damp sponges (wet method) should be used to collect any dry, powder residue from a broken lamp. Once used, sponges should be disposed of in the Hazardous Waste container.

Clean Up

If an individual fluorescent lamp is broken, retrieve lamp spill kit. Put on safety goggles and gloves. Using small hand broom, sweep all glass and lamp debris into dustpan. Collect any residue with a damp sponge and discard in the Hazardous Waste container. Double line bucket with trash bags, then place lamp into pail. Once the pail is full, it must be transported to the Hazardous Waste Storage Area. Remove trash bag and place into container reserved for broken lamps. Return spill bucket to original location. Re-line with double trash bags.

If a box of lamps break, place entire box into a plastic bag, covering both sides, and seal it with packing tape and transport the box to the Hazardous Waste Storage Area. If broken lamps come in contact with clothing or skin, remove powder residue. Wash exposed skin with soap and water. Launder clothing. If broken lamps come in contact with carpet or upholstery call EH&S (x5009) for assistance.

Reporting

If at any time you feel the lamp breakage is too large for an individual to cleanup, please contact your supervisor and have them call EH&S (x5009) for assistance.

Inspection Procedures

Following the guidelines to properly manage used fluorescent lamps/tubes supplemented by the following "Inspection Checklist" will help to limit the hazards associated with broken bulbs.

Fluorescent Lamps/Tubes Checklist

Item Yes No
Storage
Are lamps stored in a manner to prevent breakage?    
Have cardboard filler and debris been removed from 4/8ft boxes prior to packing?    
Have the full used lamp containers been taped shut?    
Waste Pick-Up/Disposal
Are the lamp boxes being transported to Universal Waste Storage Area in a timely manner    
Spill Clean-Up
Are fluorescent lamp/tube spill kits available for use?    
Are personnel trained on the proper control and clean-up of lamp breakage?    
Comments:

Batteries

Most batteries are restricted from normal trash and land fill disposal. The following types of batteries can be recycled. Placed in the recycling bucket behind the Warehouse. Affix an orange label to each battery and date it.

  • Lithium
  • Mercury Oxide (typically a button battery)
  • Silver Oxide (typically a button battery)
  • Nickel Cadmium
  • Lead Acid
  • Mixed dry cell
  • Metal Hydride

Mercury

There are many products on campus such as thermometers, thermostats, manometers and other pressure gauges that may contain mercury. All these instruments, including elemental mercury, must be disposed of as hazardous waste. In the event of a mercury spill, call EH&S for assistance.

PCBs

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) were in wide use in electrical components but were found to be extremely toxic. Most production and use of PCBs were discontinued in 1979. PCBs may still be found in capacitors and light ballasts on campus. Because of the special handling and disposal requirements of electrical components containing or suspected of containing PCBs, please contact EH&S (x5009) for waste disposal procedures.

Used Oil

Any used petroleum oil from research labs, maintenance shops, pumps, equipment, and machinery should be placed in the used oil storage tank for recycling. If all possible, do not mix any other material with the used oil and do not allow water to enter waste oil containers. Used oils can usually be transferred to a recycler at a lower cost to the university. However, waste oil that has been mixed with water, solvents, heavy metals, toxics, PCBs, or other chemical substances may result in substantial costs to the university due to its inherent hazardous characteristics. Containers used for accumulating used oils should be clearly marked with the words "USED OIL".

Gas Cylinders

University personnel using cylinders must make every attempt to return them to the supplier when empty. The best approach is to check with the supplier before purchasing any cylinders to see if empty cylinders will be picked up when new ones are delivered.

Aerosol Cans

Aerosol cans which still contain hazardous product and/or propellant should be handled through the EH&S. Aerosol cans which contain no product or propellant are considered as empty and can be disposed of in the regular trash. If you are unsure about the condition of the aerosol can, please contact EH&S (x5009).

Contact Information

Cathleen Eldridge, Associate Director
Office: Sibley Hall 421
Phone: 564-5009
Fax: 564-5082
Email: eldridcm@plattsburgh.edu