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The PPM Blog

Universal Waste Management and Small Retailers

a person smiling for the cameraContributed by Rebecca Martin, Environmental Engineer, PPM Consultants

Let’s be honest here, do you really think that the mom and pop shop down the street or that small boutique in your town square is recycling their light bulbs? Or even know to do so? Probably not. Is your state environmental protection agency dumpster diving at every small retailer to ensure this happens? Probably not.

Is it required that all small retailers recycle their universal waste even if this is the only kind of hazardous waste they generate? If we look to Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (40 CFR), the answer seems grey and difficult to interpret, and of course, every state has additions and exceptions to the regulations adopted from the 40 CFR.

PPM conducted a universal waste research analysis to determine if it was required by federal and several state regulations for small retailers to recycle small amounts of universal waste and the results varied with considerable from state to state.

According to the federal standard and most states, if a facility generates <220 lbs. (100 kg) of hazardous waste or <2.2 lbs. (1 kg) of acutely hazardous waste, they are classified as a very small quantity generator (VSQG). If your business only generates limited quantity (<220lbs) of universal waste and this is the only waste you generate, you most likely fit into this classification.

For VSQGs, there are several exemptions for the management of hazardous waste. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s web page article: Frequent Questions About Universal Waste: Who is affected by the universal waste regulations?, “Households that generate universal wastes are exempt from the hazardous waste standards under the household hazardous waste exclusion and therefore, are not affected by the universal waste regulations. Facilities with very small quantity generator status are also not affected by the universal waste regulations. However, EPA encourages management of these materials as universal wastes even for these types of generators, when possible.”

Taking a deeper dive into the federal regulations, one can find the basis for this in 40 CFR Part 273.8(a)(2):

“(a) Persons managing the wastes listed below may, at their option, manage them under the requirements of this part:

(1) Household wastes that are exempt under § 261.4(b)(1) of this chapter and are also of the same type as the universal wastes defined at § 273.9; and/or

(2) Very small quantity generator wastes that are exempt under § 262.14 of this chapter and are also of the same type as the universal wastes defined at § 273.9.”

Therefore, VSQG’s have the option of managing their universal waste under universal waste regulations or hazardous waste regulations, whichever is the most beneficial to their facility.

If VSQG’s are not required to recycle and manage their waste as universal waste, what are the regulations about disposing of insignificant amounts of hazardous waste with general refuse? 40 CFR Part 262.13(f)(1)(i) states:

“(f) Mixing hazardous wastes with solid wastes —

(1) Very small quantity generator wastes.

(i) Hazardous wastes generated by a very small quantity generator may be mixed with solid wastes. Very small quantity generators may mix a portion or all of its hazardous waste with solid waste and remain subject to § 262.14 even though the resultant mixture exceeds the quantity limits identified in the definition of very small quantity generator at § 260.10 of this chapter, unless the mixture exhibits one or more of the characteristics of hazardous waste identified in part 261 subpart C of this chapter.”

According to the federal standard, a VSQG may mix their hazardous wastes as long as the total characteristics of the waste are unchanged. To be sure, one may have to conduct a TCLP Analysis on the total waste.

But According to 40 CFR 262.14 (5)(iv), there are exemptions for VSQGs to dispose of their wastes at municipal solid waste landfills that are permitted to handle universal waste:

“A very small quantity generator that accumulates hazardous waste in amounts less than or equal to the limits in paragraphs (a)(3) and (4) of this section must either treat or dispose of its hazardous waste in an on-site facility or ensure delivery to an off-site treatment, storage, or disposal facility, either of which, if located in the U.S., is…

  • Permitted, licensed, or registered by a state to manage municipal solid waste and, if managed in a municipal solid waste landfill is subject to part 258 of this chapter;
  • Permitted, licensed, or registered by a state to manage non-municipal nonhazardous waste and, if managed in a non-municipal non-hazardous waste disposal unit, is subject to the requirements in §§ 257.5 through 257.30.”

Therefore, under 40 CFR 262.14 (5)(iv), a VSQG can send their hazardous waste to a permitted municipal solid waste landfill or a facility permitted to manage non-municipal nonhazardous waste. Therefore, businesses that are VSQGs would need to ensure that their “dumpster waste” would be sent to one of the facilities listed in 40 CFR 262.14 (5) to ensure disposal of their universal waste  were in compliance with federal requirements.

Agency Communication

Several states’ regulations were analyzed to confirm if the state followed federal guidelines or if they are more stringent. However, some states did not adopt the rules or had exceptions to these rules.

When communicating with state agencies, varying answers were given regarding the disposal of small amounts of universal waste with regular solid waste in a disposal container. The state representatives that provided guidance generally gave one of three answers:

1) the disposal of universal waste with solid waste should not happen and should be recycled with local recyclers or collection centers

2) disposing the small amount of universal with routine solid waste is accepted as long as the combined waste goes to a permitted municipal solid waste facility or a Transport Storage Disposal Facility (TSDF); or

3) the universal waste amount (a few fluorescent lamps and batteries a year) is so insignificant that “it should not matter”.

During correspondence with state representatives, in general the agencies seemed to loosely regulate the disposal of universal waste for many small businesses or VSQGs altogether. This is due to limited resources as well as vague interpretation of these disposal practices. In short, an inspection of a small business with regard to disposal of hazardous waste, is very unlikely unless that facility has had a history of generating hazardous waste.

Moving Forward

Although the federal and state regulations can be confusing or difficult to interpret, there are the several options for current small businesses/retailers or VSQGs:

  • Choose to dispose of insignificant amounts of universal waste with routine solid waste and consider confirming that the local landfill will accept these universal wastes from a VSQG.
  • A universal waste recycling program may be created depending on state-specific rules or regulatory guidance.
  • Specify the use of fluorescent bulbs or lamps that would not be hazardous waste at time of disposal to reduce or eliminate hazardous/universal waste generation in the future. Possibly find more alternatives to other types of universal waste.

This research was very interesting and revealed many grey areas to consider for small retailers and management of their universal wastes.  If you have any questions or would like to discuss this information, please feel free to reach out to me at

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