Each year nearly 600 million lamps are dumped in landfills and solid waste incinerators across the nation. Fluorescent lamps, CFL and HID lamps containing mercury make up the largest number of commercially used lamps improperly disposed.
Recycling Used Bulbs is the Law
With EPA Universal Waste laws in place since January 2000, (40 CFR 273) businesses are required to manage “used lamps” properly through approved hazardous waste disposal companies. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to see anywhere from one to dozens of fluorescent tubes and CFL tossed in regular commercial waste dumpsters. Care must be taken when handling broken fluorescent lamps.
The Mercury Hazard
Mercury vapor escapes into the air when lamps are broken. Serious environmental consequences occur when the mercury seeps into the earth and settles into ground and surface waters. Health hazards exist to people who become exposed to mercury vapor, as it is extremely toxic to the human nervous system. It’s also notoriously persistent and builds up in fish and birds. Lead, which is also found in used lamps, causes severe environmental damage and is known to lower IQ levels in children who are exposed.
Compliance with the Law
Hazardous Waste Rules from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established how businesses are to dispose of these mercury containing lamp devices, which are considered a “Universal Waste.” The average contractor and end users have largely ignored these rules. The issues of adequate compliance will be tested as disgruntled employees or environmental activists turn in companies. Penalties for non-compliance can be stiff and enforcement of the recycling laws are becoming ever more present.
Nearly Every Part of the Lamp can be Recycled, Except the Pop!
When lamps are collected for recycling, component parts are separated and hazardous materials handled properly to avoid any environmental contamination. The crushed lamp material is separated into five waste paths; aluminum end caps, brass, glass, mercury rich phosphor powder, and bake-o-lite insulation.
Mercury reclamation facilities retort the lamps. Not all recycling facilities are equal. The best use a 100% processing method. This best available technology process occurs when the “entire crushed lamp and components” are heated under high temperature and vacuum, the mercury is vaporized, condensed and extracted from the powders, Alternate recovery facilities use a different process and they do not treat the glass or end caps for Mercury removal. These facilities treat (retort) only the phosphor rich powders and generally landfill the crushed glass. Both methods are available. Which do you prefer?
Many institutions, municipalities and commercial contractors that place large lamp orders are already aware of the recycling laws and have policies on the handling of used fluorescent and HID lamps. Does your company handle lamps according to the requirements or are you in violation?