Fluorescent bulbs, batteries, computers, and more fall into a hazardous waste category called "Universal Waste". The Universal Waste collection program is designed to divert mercury bearing wastes into recycling programs. All of these materials, if disposed of in the trash, are considered hazardous waste by state and federal regulatory agencies. It is also more environmentally sound and cost effective to recycle than to dispose of these items as regular solid waste.
Mercury is a toxic metal that can accumulate in living tissue and cause a number of adverse health effects. Many materials that are considered Universal Waste contain components with mercury in them. We are increasingly using fluorescent lighting because it is cheaper and more energy efficient, but several million lamps are discarded as solid waste by Michigan businesses each year. Each fluorescent lamp contains a small amount of mercury, possibly making them the largest source of mercury in our solid waste stream. When a lamp is broken or placed into a landfill or incinerator, the mercury can contaminate the air, surface water, or ground water.
To consider a material simply "solid waste", there are several EPA requirements and tests. One is called the TCLP (Toxicity Characteristic Leachate Procedure) or "T-Clip". Using TCLP analysis, fluorescent lights have historically exceeded the allowable level of mercury. High intensity discharge (HID) lights and some neon lights also contain mercury and should not be disposed of in the regular trash. The WSU Lighting Department now has a program to recycle these lamps.
We are only able to accept batteries generated at the University for work-related activities.If your department generates waste batteries, contact 577-1200 to request a battery bucket.
Check with your local Public Works Department for information on disposal of household batteries and other household hazardous waste.
Mercury thermometers, thermostats, etc.
To dispose of a broken or unbroken instrument that contains mercury, contact OEH&S at 577-1200. It is important that you not attempt to clean up spilled mercury or dispose of it in the regular trash. Although there is no university policy that prohibits one from purchasing mercury containing instruments, OEH&S strongly recommends that labs purchase thermometers and other equipment that don't contain mercury. In some events, mercury spills can potentially close down an operation for days to weeks because the EPA and State Public Health Department must give clearance before normal operations can resume. This clearance is time consuming, since decontamination, laboratory analyses, and sometimes the removal of furniture, equipment, and carpeting is necessary. A mercury spill can be a very expensive accident.
If your department is buying new computers, make sure you properly dispose of the old ones. Call the Grounds Department at 577-6265 to have old monitors, CPUs and other computer components collected. Grounds will deliver these items to the Property Office where they will determine if the equipment will be reused or recycled. Property will contact OEH&S to arrange for recycling.
Please help us cut back on the amount of trash the University generates. Don't throw these materials in the dumpster! Call 577-1200 for more information.