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Universal Waste

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Universal waste is hazardous waste that are widely produced by households and many different types of businesses.

The universal waste rule (California Code of Regulations, title 22, division 4.5, chapter 23) allows people to handle and transport universal waste under a simple set of rules that are appropriate for the risks posed by the waste but still protect people and the environment. Universal waste includes:

  • Electronic devices
  • Batteries (most household-type batteries)
  • Electric lamps (fluorescent tubes and bulbs, high-intensity discharge lamps, sodium vapor lamps and electric lamps that contain added mercury)
  • Mercury-containing equipment
  • CRTs
  • Non-empty aerosol cans

A universal waste handler is a generator of universal waste or the owner or operator of a facility that receives universal waste from another universal waste handler, accumulates universal waste, and sends universal waste to another universal waste handler, a facility that accepts hazardous waste, or a foreign country.

Two categories of universal waste handlers, households and businesses, are exempt from most of the requirements of the universal waste regulations if they comply with certain conditions. They are not subject to rules for training, accumulation time, record keeping, or labeling.

For Households

Households must recycle their universal waste and are prohibited from disposing of it in the trash.

San Mateo County Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) program collects universal waste from residents. The HHW program has the following disposal sites available for households only:

For Businesses

Businesses include apartment buildings, hotels/motels, office buildings, retail stores, schools and all commercial businesses.

A Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Universal Waste Generator (CESQUWG) is a universal waste generator who produces less than 100 kilograms (220 pounds or 27 gallons) of Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste, including universal waste that is RCRA universal waste and less than 1 kilogram of acutely hazardous waste in a calendar month. 

The County has a small quantity generator program to assist businesses that generate small quantities of universal waste. Businesses that generate large quantities should find a hauler on this list.

For more information, call (650) 665-6217 or visit www.smchealth.org/vsqg.

All other businesses that are not a CESQUWG should use a licensed recycler to dispose of their fluorescent lights and other universal waste. For a list of authorized recyclers and other disposal information, contact San Mateo County Environmental Health at (650) 372-6200.

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