In 1999, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added a provision for mercury-containing lamps to the Universal Waste Rule (UWR, 40 CFR Part 273). Universal wastes are hazardous waste items commonly disposed by households and small businesses in the solid waste stream. The UWR was developed to encourage recycling and proper disposal of these wastes, which meet the Federal criteria for hazardous waste but are widely generated and typically do not pose an immediate and undue risk. Universal wastes are subject to less stringent standards for handling, storage, and transport. Full hazardous waste requirements remain, however, for the final recycling, treatment or disposal of these wastes. Specific UWR requirements vary based on the volume of universal waste handled or generated, so generators are encouraged to review the rule and seek additional information as needed from the US EPA and their local and state authorities.
Incorporating lamps into the UWR was a major step in facilitating removal of waste lamps from municipal solid waste and incinerators, thus helping to prevent mercury releases into the environment.