Frequent Questions

Can whole used circuit boards containing mercury switches continue to be managed under the 40 CFR §261.4(a)(14) exclusion, or are they required to be managed as universal wastes because they meet the definition of mercury-containing equipment?

The exclusion in 40 CFR §261.4(a)(14) is exclusively for shredded circuit boards being recycled that are stored in containers sufficient to prevent a release to the environment prior to recovery and are free of mercury switches, mercury relays, and nickel-cadmium batteries and lithium batteries. Therefore, whole used circuit boards containing mercury switches are not eligible for the §261.4(a)(14) exclusion.

Shredded circuit boards that have had mercury switches, mercury relays, nickel-cadmium batteries, and lithium batteries removed prior to shredding and that are containerized prior to recycling are eligible for the exclusion in §261.4(a)(14). The exclusion is limited to circuit boards free of these items to prevent environmental releases of mercury, cadmium, and lithium. "Free of" does not mean that the whole circuit boards never contained these items, but that these items are not part of the circuit boards when they are shredded. If the items are removed from whole circuit boards prior to shredding, the shredded boards remain covered by the exclusion. Shredded circuit boards that are not free of these items are solid wastes and may be hazardous wastes when recycled (Monthly Call Center Report Question; December 2003 ((RCRA Online #14692)).

Whole circuit boards containing minimal quantities of mercury and batteries that are protectively packaged to minimize dispersion of metal constituents would qualify for the scrap metal exemption in §261.6(a)(3) (Memo, Cotsworth to Isaacs; August 8, 1997 (RCRA Online #14155)).

The memoranda referenced above are available in the RCRA Online database at the following URL:

It is not clear whether all circuit boards with mercury switches would meet the definition of mercury containing equipment. If the current board would be hazardous waste without the mercury switch, it would not be eligible for management under the universal waste rule.  However, it is important to note that no generator is required to manage their wastes as universal wastes, even if the wastestream meets a universal waste definition. The universal waste regulations provide an alternative set of management standards for RCRA hazardous waste generators (§273.1(b)). The Mercury Containing Equipment Final Rule added mercury-containing equipment (MCE) to the federal list of universal wastes regulated under the RCRA hazardous waste regulations (70 FR 45508; August 5, 2005). Specifically, MCE is defined in this rule as a device or part of a device (including thermostats, but excluding batteries and lamps) that contains elemental mercury integral to its function (§260.10). Therefore, the MCE Final Rule applies to generators of hazardous waste MCE who choose to manage their MCE waste under the universal waste regulations in Part 273 in lieu of the hazardous waste regulations in 40 CFR Parts 260 through 268.

The August 5, 2005, Federal Register is available at the following URL: 

It is important to note that some states are authorized to add wastes that are not federal universal wastes to their lists of universal wastes. Therefore, in some states, spent MCE may already be regulated as a universal waste.

This guidance discusses the federal regulations. Since most states are authorized to implement the federal regulations, you should contact your state environmental agency for guidance on managing circuit boards. State web sites are located at the following URL:

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