The Universal Waste Rule was written in 1995 to streamline environmental regulations for wastes generated by large numbers of businesses in relatively small quantities. It is designed to reduce the amount of hazardous waste disposed of in municipal solid waste, encourage the recycling and proper disposal of certain common hazardous wastes, and reduce the regulatory burden for businesses that generate these wastes.
Universal wastes are items that have been commonly thrown into the trash by businesses. Although handlers of universal wastes can meet less stringent standards for storing, transporting, and collecting these wastes, handlers must still comply with the full hazardous waste requirements for final recycling, treatment, or disposal. By providing a waste management structure that removes these wastes from municipal landfills and incinerators, this rule ensures stronger safeguards for public health and the environment. Examples of universal waste are: batteries, agricultural pesticides, mercury-containing thermostats, and lamps.
For more information, see http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/wastetypes/universal/index.htm