‘Moving Ahead’ On HHW and Universal Waste
(from Maine Townsman, June 2000)
by George MacDonald, Manager,  Waste Management & Recycling Program, SPO;
David Lennett, Director,  Bureau of Remediation & Waste Management, DEP

Reducing the toxicity of municipal solid waste is a waste management topic that is becoming more commonly promoted by residents, municipal and state solid waste officials. Past emphasis has been on reducing the volume of solid waste requiring disposal by implementing recycling and composting programs. Now, solid waste management strategies are being expanded to include getting the hazardous materials out of the municipal solid waste stream.

The Maine State Planning Office (SPO) and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), requested and received a special allocation from the legislature to begin development of a statewide program for the management of Household Hazardous Waste and Universal Wastes.

The term "Household Hazardous Waste" (HHW) typically is used to describe waste that exhibits the characteristics of hazardous waste, but that is specifically excluded from regulation as hazardous waste because it is generated by households, including multi-family residences, hotels and motels. Examples include pesticides purchased for the home and garden, household cleaners, lead-acid and nickel-cadmium batteries, fluorescent bulbs, oil based paint and stain, paint thinner, wood preservatives and mercury thermometers. The term sometimes is used broadly to encompass other household generated waste streams, such as waste oil and waste gasoline, that do not meet the technical definition of hazardous waste, but nevertheless present problems when mixed with the municipal waste stream.

"Universal waste" (UW) is a term that refers to hazardous wastes, such as spent fluorescent lamps, that are commonly used by a wide variety of entities, including households, businesses and industries. These wastes are manufactured products that contain hazardous constituents such as cadmium, lead, mercury and polychlorinated biphenols (PCBs). The term was coined to describe these widely generated, but generally self-contained, hazardous wastes. The DEP is revising its Hazardous Waste Management Rules and Solid Waste Management Rules to create tailored handling and storage standards for recycling and management of universal wastes, including batteries (except alkaline and vehicle batteries), cathode ray tubes, fluorescent lamps, mercury thermostats, and, intact non leaking PCB ballasts.

To avoid duplication and enhance participation, HHW and UW management and collection can occur as an adjunct to municipal waste management programs. However, the burden of collection need not rest wholly with municipalities. As part of long-term planning, we must shift our focus from "end-of-pipe" municipal waste management strategies to mechanisms that would encourage manufacturers to reduce waste toxicity and design for recyclability.

As directed by recent legislation, the SPO and DEP will be developing a plan to address the management of HHW, UW, waste oil and other problematic components of the municipal waste stream. The goal of the plan is to:

"Reduce threats to water and air, resident health and worker safety by fostering the development of regional source reduction and collection programs for HHW, UW, waste oil and other problematic components of the municipal waste stream."

A number of specific actions planned (some over the long-term) include:

• Convening a workshop to gather public input on the state role, wastes that should be targeted, funding options and other aspects of a statewide strategy

• Developing and implementing a statewide educational campaign emphasizing source reduction through use of environmentally-preferred alternatives to HHW products;

• Developing a HHW collection system that may include permanent collection facilities in addition to mobile collection services for rural communities and regions;

• Establishing facilities at solid waste transfer stations for the separation and temporary storage of mercury-containing products, paints and other problematic components of the solid waste stream;

• Establishing a state grants program to help fund the capital costs (and perhaps a portion of the operating costs) incurred by municipalities and/or regions to develop the necessary HHW collection and storage infrastructure.

It is further anticipated that work in developing and implementing this plan will involve assistance from the recently established Advisory Committee on Mercury Products. Communities with experience in hosting HHW collection days will have the opportunity to share their experiences and offer guidance as the plan is developed and finalized. The experience of other New England states will also be considered during this planning effort.

The DEP and SPO have begun preliminary discussions and will be moving ahead with the planned discussion workshop and other action items later this summer, once the funding is available. This effort will follow the state’s adopted solid waste hierarchy that requires preference be given to management strategies that reduce the generation of waste at the source, which means that HHW and UW management and collection efforts should be undertaken only in conjunction with an aggressive source reduction effort.