DATE: January 31, 2006
TO: Board of Supervisors
SUBJECT: GETTING THE WORD OUT ON UNIVERSAL WASTE
Most people do not realize that a fluorescent light bulb in a dumpster at work or an old digital alarm clock or batteries in the trash at home could be against the law. In fact, as of February 9, 2006 both of these are violations of California’s universal waste law and disposing of large quantities of them in this manner can result in large fines and in some instances, criminal prosecution. Fluorescent light bulbs, alarm clocks and batteries are examples of universal wastes that are regulated under California’s Universal Waste Rule.
As the local jurisdiction charged by the State with enforcing its universal waste laws, the County must work diligently to ensure that citizens are aware that the law has changed. In addition the County and the cities within the County need to expand their cooperative efforts directed toward other forms of household hazardous wastes to include universal wastes generated by households. Today’s action directs the Chief Administrative Officer to work with the cities in the county and the private sector to create a regional public outreach campaign to educate San Diego County residents on the methods to properly dispose of, or recycle, universal waste.
SUPERVISOR GREG COX:
- Direct the Chief Administrative Officer to work with all cities administering household hazardous waste programs in San Diego County and private industry to develop and implement a regional public outreach campaign educating San Diego County residents on the methods to properly dispose of or recycle previously exempt universal waste.
- Direct the Chief Administrative Officer to report back to the Board of Supervisors in 90 days on the status of the public outreach campaign.
- Transfer $28,000 from the Community Projects budget (org 15650) to the Department of Environmental Health Org 44400, Account 52370 to support future Household Hazardous Waste collection events.
Funds for this request are included in the Fiscal Year 2005-2007 Operational Plan. If approved, this action will result in the addition of no new staff years.
Universal wastes generated by some businesses have been regulated for several years. But everyone generates some universal waste, and most people do not realize that a fluorescent light bulb in a dumpster at work or an old digital alarm clock or batteries in the trash at home could be against the law. In fact, as of February 9, 2006 these incidents will be considered violations of California’s universal waste law for households and for the smallest quantity business generators. Disposing of these wastes in this manner can result in large fines and, in some instances, criminal prosecution.
Fluorescent light bulbs, alarm clocks and batteries are examples of universal wastes that are regulated under California’s Universal Waste Rule (California Code of Regulations, title 22, division 4.5, chapter 23), which states generally that universal waste may not be discarded in solid waste landfills.
Not all waste products of a particular type are considered to be universal waste. For example, thermometers that contain mercury are universal waste, but thermometers that contain alcohol are not. Likewise, automotive lead acid batteries are classified as hazardous waste not as universal waste, and are subject to much more restrictive disposal requirements. Most items classified as universal waste are considered toxic because they contain low levels of hazardous metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and chromium. When introduced into the environment, universal waste can release these toxic heavy metals which can eventually find their way into the food and water supply. Mercury in food, such as fish, is a particular health hazard because it is easily absorbed into the blood stream and body tissues. Once in the body, it can interfere with the function of the central nervous system and eventually cause permanent damage.
Universal waste is one of the most commonly generated types of hazardous waste. Examples of universal waste that may be found in the home or workplace include:
- Computer Monitors
- Video Game Units
- Fax Machines
- Rechargeable Batteries
- Printers and Scanners
- Cellular Phones
- DVD/Video Players
- Electronic Wrist Watches
- Hair Dryers
Modern society has become increasingly dependent on electronic devices. As these devices age and stop working, or we upgrade to the latest model, the old units are finding their way into our landfills.
Enforcement of state requirements that are applicable to generators of hazardous wastes has been delegated to the County Department of Environmental Health by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). That delegation extends to these new prohibitions on the disposal of household and small business universal wastes. The County’s delegated powers allow both civil and criminal enforcement and allow the County to quarantine universal waste, enjoin illegal practices, and assess sufficient penalties to preclude further violations of the law.
As the local jurisdiction charged by the State with enforcing its universal waste laws, the County should also work diligently to ensure that citizens are aware that the law has changed. Today’s action directs the Chief Administrative Officer to work with the cities in the County and the private sector to create a regional public outreach campaign educating San Diego County residents on the methods to properly dispose of or recycle universal waste. That outreach effort should be coordinated with existing regional cooperative efforts for household hazardous waste. I am also recommending that the Chief Administrative Officer return to the Board of Supervisors in 90 days with a report on the status of this public outreach campaign.
Additionally, I am asking the Board of Supervisors to transfer $28,000 from the District 1 Community Projects budget to the Department of Environmental Health in order to support future Household Hazardous Waste Event collection events in the unincorporated area. The Department of Environmental Health routinely holds these collection events that in addition to collecting universal waste, also accept other types of waste that are not allowed to be placed in solid waste landfills. These types of items include aerosols, automotive fluids, paint, fertilizers, pool chemicals and household cleaners. Due to the amount of materials collected at past events and the projected increase in collection due to the change in State law regulating the disposal of universal waste, the budget for future events is no longer adequate. Today’s allocation will supplement the remaining funds for this purpose, and will allow the Department of Environmental Health to fully fund the remaining Household Hazardous Waste events scheduled in this fiscal year.
San Diego County boasts one of the most diverse, unique and enjoyable ecosystems in the nation. County residents love their beaches, bays, mountains and deserts and do not want to see them polluted with mercury and other heavy metals. When given the opportunity, I know that residents will do the right thing and put toxic waste in its place.
Just last week, I sponsored a community cleanup day for the unincorporated communities of Bonita and Lincoln Acres. In just six hours we collected over 25,000 pounds, or 12.7 tons, of electronic universal waste from just 440 attendees. Events like this one demonstrate that, if given the opportunity to properly dispose of these materials, people in San Diego County will make every effort to do so. I urge your support of today’s recommendations so that we can start working on a plan to get the word out on how residents can not only comply with the law, but also play a part in protecting our natural resources.
Supervisor, First District