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Universal Waste

Sierra Countis
Sierra Sun

Make sure you don’t toss those old AA flashlight batteries in the trash because, well, it’s illegal.

Nevada County has expanded its garbage removal service with a curbside battery recycling program in response to new hazardous waste regulations put into effect last year. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control identified a list of items called universal waste ” or U-waste ” that includes household batteries; such electronic appliances as cell phones, TVs, computers and radios; and mercury thermostats, fluorescent lights, mercury thermometers and any product containing mercury or other heavy metals.

“Pretty soon everything will be hazardous,” said Jeff Collins, manager of Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal Company. “Banana peels will be hazardous.”

U-waste items were listed as hazardous waste by the state several years ago; however, households and small businesses were not required to comply with the regulation until now.

The Town of Truckee is going to see how the curbside program works in western Nevada County first, and then apply the information to fine-tune a program for homeowners in Tahoe, said Nichole Dorr, Truckee’s recycling coordinator.

In the meantime, Tahoe residents have many options at their disposal.

“We call it the ‘dirty murf,’ which stands for Material Recovery Facility,” said Chris Donica, operations manager of the Tahoe Truckee Sierra Disposal Company facility.

The recovery facility sorts through trash to remove items that can be recycled as well as items that are harmful to the environment, Donica said.

“Our primary focus is to pull recyclables out,” Collins said.

Small hazardous waste items, like AA batteries, are tough to find in a heap of garbage once everything is mixed together, Collins said. That makes the enforcement of the new hazardous waste regulations a challenge. But if not disposed of properly, household batteries may leak corrosive chemicals into the groundwater. Other U-waste materials ” particularly those containing mercury ” could also impact the environment by releasing harmful toxins into the atmosphere, he said.

Homeowners should contact the waste removal company to alert staff of any hazardous materials that need to be discarded, and residents can set the items outside to be picked up, Donica said. Everything included in the list of U-waste items will be picked up, for a fee, with the exception of batteries and fluorescent lightbulbs.

Another component to the U-waste regulations not everyone is aware of is the proper disposal of flourescent lightbulbs, Dorr said. Offering a drop-off facility for people to recycle flourescent lightbulbs is more of a liability for the town because of the risks involved with the possibility of people injuring themselves from broken glass, she said.

Recycling batteries is much easier.

People can also drop off their old batteries for recycling in silver trash cans located in Truckee and on the North Shore. Household batteries are acceptable, but car batteries must be taken to a hazardous waste site, Donica said.

Anything that makes it convenient for people to participate in a recycling program is beneficial, Dorr said, because it makes the task second nature.


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