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Universal Waste is an entire category of materials that, if recycled, are much easier to manage as waste. When properly managed, Universal Wastes are not subject to the hazardous waste regulations, liability, and paperwork. These wastes include:


Fluorescent Tubes

An average fluorescent tube contains as much as 40mg of mercury. However, fluorescent tubes that contain 80% less mercury than the industry average can now be purchased. These low-mercury tubes have the same service life as the older tubes. Some units at MSU have already begun purchasing and using the low mercury fluorescent tubes, which are easily identified by the green-colored metal end caps.

The U.S. EPA and Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality mandate that all generators of hazardous waste "have a program in place to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste generated" to a degree economically practicable. To this end, Environmental Health and Safety recommends that ONLY the low mercury fluorescent tubes be purchased for the University. All remaining stock of older tubes and those already in service can still be used, but they must be recycled after use.

Fluorescent Tubes (Silver Ends)

Older style fluorescent tubes, which have silver ends, are still used in many fixtures on campus. These tubes contain mercury at levels high enough to classify as hazardous waste. However, if the tubes are collected as detailed below, then a minimum amount of effort is needed to comply with regulations.

  1. Collect tubes in the same boxes they were shipped in (if not possible, EHS can provide boxes).
  2. Leave all flaps intact so that proper closure can be made when the box is full.
  3. Label the box with the actual words "Used Electric Lamps" by hand or with stickers provided by EHS. The box must be labeled when tubes are first added. (Labeling also helps avoid confusion over which tubes are the used ones.)
  4. Remove box inserts prior to filling boxes with used tubes. Do not tape tubes together.
  5. Store in an area protected from weather and where breakage will not occur.
  6. Completely seal box when full.
  7. When you have accumulated a sufficient number of boxes (or when the boxes get in the way), call the recycling hotline at 355-1723 to request a pickup. Requests for pick-ups of the tubes must be submitted within one year of when the used tubes are created.

If silver-end fluorescent tubes break prior to being sealed in a used electric lamp box, they must be collected and handled as a hazardous waste. This means putting the broken glass and powder in a bucket with a lid and marking the bucket as you would any other hazardous waste. Submit a waste pickup request to EHS if the tubes are being handled as hazardous waste as opposed to universal waste.

If tubes break while in a sealed box, they can still be handled as if they had not broken

Fluorescent Tubes (Green Ends)

Fluorescent tubes with green end caps should also be boxed together and recycled in the same manner as silver ended tubes.




Batteries come in various shapes, sizes, and types. Common types are listed below:

Battery Type
  • most common battery type, found in cell sizes AAA to D
Nickel/Cadmium (NiCd)
  • some laptop computers
  • rechargeable 9-volt, AA, or D cell batteries
  • some walkie talkies
Lithium ion or nickel hydride
  • cell phones
  • cameras
  • newer laptop computers
Lead acid batteries
  • cars and motorcycles
  • deep cycle electric backup power for lights and communications
    (Sealed lead acid batteries can be as small as a D-cell battery.)
Mercury or silver oxide
  • hearing aids
  • watches

Batteries should be segregated into these categories when storing and when a request for a pick-up is made. (Battery type is usually indicated on battery labels.) To prevent a buildup of heat or sparks, batteries larger than 9-volt should be stored such that the terminals are not touching.

Batteries may be collected in any container with which they are compatible, but must be sent for disposal within one year of start of collection. Label the container with the words "used batteries" or "spent batteries for recycling."

Alkaline batteries may be discarded in the general refuse. They are not harmful to the environment and the cost of actual recycling far outweighs the benefit.



Light Ballasts

Light ballasts, found in light fixtures all over campus, may contain PCBs. The manufacture of ballasts containing PCBs ended in 1978, but older ballasts containing PCBs are still in use. If a ballast is not labeled with "Contains no PCBs," then it must be assumed that it contains PCBs.

All light ballasts should be collected for disposal through EHS. Even those produced after 1978 may contain other fluids inappropriate for landfill, and it is cheaper to manage all as PCB ballasts than to test individual ballasts.

Ballasts should be collected in containers labeled as used or spent ballasts. If ballasts are leaking, they should be individually wrapped in plastic to prevent a spread of any potentially harmful fluid.



Mercury Containing Devices

Devices containing only mercury, such as mercury switches, older thermostats, sphygmomanometers, thermometers, manometers, or pressure gauges that are unbroken, may be managed as Universal Waste. For the most part, you will still need to fill out a waste tag and request a pick-up. If the device is a result of work being done on campus in a location whereby it would otherwise be left, you may bring the device directly to your own work area, provided you double bag the device. This will help prevent any possible release of mercury should it be dropped.


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