Federal and State Regulations

Mercury Waste is Regulated

Not only is mercury a threat to our quality of life when it is not properly recycled, it can also be a significant threat to the overall health of your business. Local and state environmental regulations and EPA enforcement of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), regulate the generation, treatment, storage, handling, clean-up, and disposal of hazardous wastes, including products which contain Mercury. Mercury-containing lamps, batteries, and medical and electrical equipment and devices are regulated as Universal Wastes.

Additionally, the US Department of Transportation regulates the packaging and transport of hazardous materials and waste. (See below DOT links for more information)

Need for State Regulations

In general, while DOT existing regulations address the requirement that shipped products do not physically spill during transportation. However, these rules do not recognize that mercury vaporizes at room temperature, which create a need for specialized health and safety packaging requirements that address this fact. Current rules are directed at minimizing spills but do not address the unique health and safety personnel issues represented by transporting broken, yet contained, mercury containing products in "approved" DOT packaging.

Environmental practitioners know that most federal environmental laws follow the lead of state laws and regulations. Mercury waste regulation is no exception. Today most mercury lamps are not recycled properly and states are increasingly taking action to fix that problem. Washington became the first state to address the dangers of unsafe packaging and transportation of used fluorescent lamps and mercury containing devices. A new law, passed in 2010 and effective in 2013, requires that lighting and other mercury-containing devices are packaged and shipped in material that minimize the release of mercury into the environment. The law also states that packages should include mercury vapor barrier materials if lamps are transported by the United States postal service or a common carrier or collected via curbside and mail-back programs.

Additional states have addressed this issue with their own, more specific regulations regarding fluorescent lamp disposal. The State of Wisconsin recently considered legislation that would apply newer mercury-containing equipment packaging standards to used lamps from households. If adopted, the law would require those lamps to be managed in containers "designed to prevent the escape of mercury into the environment by volatilization or other means." Minnesota, Massachusetts, California and Vermont are among states that prohibit disposal of all mercury-product waste in landfills. New York has a similar ban, with an exemption for households and businesses with 100 or less employees disposing of 15 or less non-hazardous waste lamps per month. Many other states prohibit non-household generators from disposing of any mercury containing fluorescent lamps in solid waste landfills regardless of TCLP test results, including Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Florida and Rhode Island.

Future Regulatory Issues

Future regulation will also have an impact on the packaging, shipping and recycling of mercury-containing products. Currently, a significant volume of mercury-containing waste in the U.S. is exported into Canadian landfills due to less stringent regulatory standards. However, a new U.S. government regulation that goes into effect in 2013 effectively bans the exportation of elemental mercury. The act will prohibit the transfer of elemental mercury by federal agencies, ban U.S. export of elemental mercury by 2013, and requires the Department of Energy to designate and manage an elemental mercury long-term disposal facility. This will help prevent mercury-containing waste from being shipped outside of the United States. However, the ban only extends to >95% Hg products and does not extend to waste or compounds that contain mercury.

As legislation evolves, nations and states will continue to consider imposing more specific packaging requirements to supplement existing regulations. Instituting regulation for proper disposal and recycling of mercury-containing products, including fluorescents and CFLs, is becoming a global issue that should continue to be recognized for further protection from mercury vapor pollution and exposure.

Your company may be at risk of severe financial penalties, criminal prosecution and long-term liability if mercury-containing products are improperly recycled.


United States Environmental Protection Agency Sites
California EPA Sites

California universal waste rules have changed. There are no longer exemptions for households or small business. All fluorescent lamps, batteries and mercury devices must be recycled.

Other Helpful Sites
DOT Links