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Contact information
For information about managing hazardous waste, contact:
Mike Ellenbecker
Hazardous waste program coordinator
262-884-2342

Hazardous waste overview

Hazardous waste is a special class of solid waste that must be managed properly to protect human health and the environment. Federal and state laws regulate how businesses, institutions, governments and other non-households must manage this waste. These regulations do not cover most hazardous waste generated by households, but household hazardous waste should be managed carefully as well.

In Wisconsin, there are currently about 11,000 businesses, schools and government institutions that generate varying quantities and types of hazardous waste. The number of hazardous waste generators and the quantity of hazardous waste generated has declined in recent years, mostly due to successful waste minimization efforts, the economy and the cost of disposal.

Disposal options for household hazardous waste

Residential hazardous waste is not subject to Wisconsin's hazardous waste rules unless it is segregated from normal household trash for management. However, households should understand the types of waste they have and how to properly manage it to protect the safety of family members and pets and protect the environment.

Facilities that collect household hazardous waste must follow the collection facility requirements in ch. NR 666, subch. HH, Wis. Adm. Code [PDF exit DNR].

Determining if your business generates hazardous waste

State and federal law require businesses and institutions to determine if their waste is hazardous. A business can determine if it generates hazardous waste by carefully reviewing ch. NR 661, Wis. Adm. Code, and by answering the following questions.

  1. Is the material solid waste?
  2. Is it excluded from the hazardous waste rules?
  3. Is it a listed or characteristic hazardous waste?
  4. Is it a mixture containing hazardous waste, or is it derived from hazardous waste?

Is Your Waste Hazardous? (WA-1152) [PDF] can help you with the hazardous waste identification process.

Hazardous waste generator classifications

If your business or institution generates hazardous waste, you must comply with certain requirements, depending on the quantity of hazardous waste you generate during any given month. There are three hazardous waste generator categories:

  • very small quantity;
  • small quantity; and
  • large quantity generators.

All hazardous waste generators must make a waste determination and properly dispose of their hazardous waste. Additional requirements apply based on the generator classification. Some generators must file an annual report with the DNR.

Streamlined requirements for universal waste

To encourage and facilitate recycling, Wisconsin's universal waste regulations reduce the hazardous waste management standards for Wisconsin's designated universal wastes. The universal waste regulations govern the collection and management of these widely generated wastes and provide an alternative set of requirements that reduces the regulatory burden by allowing longer storage of these wastes and reduced recordkeeping.

The list of materials classified as universal waste in Wisconsin includes:

  • hazardous waste batteries, such as lithium, nickel-cadmium, silver oxide, lead-acid;
  • hazardous waste pesticides that are either recalled or collected in waste pesticide collection programs;
  • thermometers and mercury-containing equipment;
  • hazardous waste lamps, such as fluorescent bulbs; and
  • antifreeze, which is a Wisconsin-specific universal waste if it is recycled.

Wisconsin's universal waste rules affect businesses and institutions that generate or store universal wastes, transporters and destination facilities (recycling facilities or hazardous waste management facilities).

More details on specific waste types can be found here:

The video below demonstrates best management practices for collection sites that accept universal waste.

Hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal

Facilities that treat, store or dispose of hazardous waste must be licensed by the DNR, unless the activity is specifically exempt from the licensing requirement.

Wisconsin is home to 14 licensed hazardous waste management facilities. Some Wisconsin companies have a license only to store or treat the hazardous waste they generate. Commercial hazardous waste facilities manage hazardous waste generated by businesses and institutions in Wisconsin, as well as other states and foreign countries. Wisconsin's commercial hazardous waste facilities recycle hazardous waste solvents and mercury, fuel blend hazardous wastes for energy recovery, store hazardous wastes before treatment at other licensed hazardous waste facilities, and treat hazardous wastes to facilitate disposal. There are no operating hazardous waste disposal facilities (landfills) in Wisconsin.

Last revised: Thursday October 23 2014