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Options for the Recycling of Scrap Circuit Boards

Options for the Recycling of Scrap Circuit Boards

The generation of scrap circuit boards may result in some confusion on how best to mange them in compliance with the hazardous waste regulations of the EPA under RCRA.  The first step is to ensure that they are destined for recycling.  If you intend to dispose of them as a waste, they would be subject to the requirements for a hazardous waste determination under 40 CFR 262.11.  Given that circuit boards may contain a variety of heavy metals (lead, cadmium, barium, silver, etc.), mercury switches, or lithium, mercury, or NiCad batteries it is likely that they will be determined a hazardous waste, subject to full regulation under RCRA.  A better option is to ensure they are destined for recycling or reclamation, this opens up several possibilities that are exempt from regulation under RCRA.

  1. Whole unused circuit boards are considered unused Commercial Chemical Products (CCP’s).  Pursuant to 40 CFR 261.2, CCP’s are not solid waste when they are reclaimed.  A material is “reclaimed” if it is processed to recover a usable product, or if it is regenerated.  If not a solid waste, then it is not subject to any of the RCRA regulations.
  2. Whole used circuit boards meet the definition of spent materials:  “any material that has been used and as a result of contamination can no longer serve the purpose for which it was produced without processing”; but also meet the definition of scrap metal @ 40 CFR 261.6(a)(3)(iii).  You may read more about RCRA’s scrap metal exemption.  Therefore, whole used circuit boards with minimal relays, switches, or batteries, sent for recycling in protective packages are exempt from the hazardous waste regulations.
  3. Shredded circuit boards being recycled are excluded from the definition of solid waste at 40 CFR 261.4(a)(14) if they are stored in sturdy, non-leaking containers.  These shredded circuit boards cannot contain mercury switches, mercury relays, nickel cadmium batteries, or lithium batteries.  If not a solid waste, then it is not subject to any of the RCRA regulations.

More information on the above can be found in the EPA’s RCRA On-line FAQ’s or it’s e-cycling website.