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Final Rule Alert: Cal DTSC Adds New Universal Waste to State Program

Posted on October 23, 2020 by Lauren Scott

[Update 10/22/2020] 
Last month, Cal DTSC officially added photovoltaic modules, better known as solar panels, to the State universal waste system. This will allow solar panels to be managed and recycled more easily throughout the Golden State.

The Final Rule takes effect on January 1, 2021. 

Read the Final Regulatory Text here.

[Original article text] 
The California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) will add end-of-life photovoltaic (PV) modules  to the State universal waste regulations, declassifying most PV modules from their current hazardous waste designation.

By adding PV modules (i.e., solar panels) to the State universal waste regulations, California environmental regulators hope to encourage proper waste disposal, reduce waste abandonment, and increase cost savings for PV module waste generators.

For those keeping score at home, California's universal waste program will now cover eight items: Batteries, electronic devices, mercury-containing equipment, lamps, CRTs, CRT glass, aerosol cans, and PV modules (22 CCR 66273.1). 

Current End-of-Life PV Module Hazardous Waste Regulations

PV modules fall under the Golden State’s hazardous waste regulations primarily due to their glass and metal components. Solar panels can be made of palladium, silver, nickel, copper, or cadmium. When not disposed of properly, these metals can leach into the soil and groundwater.

For public safety and to protect the environment, California classified end-of-life solar panels as a hazardous waste in 2015, regulating them under Title 22, Division 20, Chapter 6.5 of the California Code of Regulations.

The DTSC has cited these stringent regulations as a significant burden on generators that disincentivize proper disposal of PV module waste.

Proposed Changes to the California Universal Waste Regulations

Due to concerns of improper disposal, as well as the low risk posed by PV modules, the DTSC recommends streamlining the PV module waste collection, transport, and treatment to meet California’s universal waste requirements. listed in Title 22, Division 4.5, Chapter 23.

The DTSC has cited the successful inclusion of electronic waste to the universal waste requirements as a positive sign that PV modules’ inclusion will also be a win for waste generators, handlers, and transporters.

According to the DTSC, the proposed regulation will affect how PV module waste is contained, transported, and treated through the following standards:
  • Applying the same transportation standards as for all other universal wastes (i.e., a business may only transport the waste to a destination facility or to another universal waste handler)
  • Allowing treatment methods for PV modules that primarily change only the physical shape of the waste (e.g., breaking, shredding, crushing, compacting) and that separate processed material by its physical properties (e.g., size, color, density)
  • Specifying the appropriate management standards for the different levels of treatment to ensure that treatment is performed safely by handlers who do not have a hazardous waste facility permit that they would otherwise be required to obtain. DTSC establishes this form of self-implementing authorization because a full or standardized hazardous waste facility permit is not commensurate with the hazards posed by treating PV modules.
The DTSC is currently seeking public comments on the proposed PV module waste management regulations.

Public comments may be submitted via e-mail here until June 10, 2019.

1-Day Title 22 Refresher Training 

Join an expert Lion instructor for the California Hazardous Waste Management Refresher webinar on November 3 or December 8. This live webinar will refresh your knowledge of the unique California regulations and law that impact hazardous waste generators. Plus, we'll help you prepare for major changes that California must adopt from EPA's Generator Improvements Rule.

Cal DTSC requires annual training for hazardous waste personnel  (22 CCR 66262.34 and 66265.16).