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How to Recycle Fluorescent Bulbs in 10 Easy Steps

March 18, 2014

If you’re a business, you need light. If you’re a smart business, you want fluorescent light.

Why? Because fluorescent bulbs are much more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs. They require less energy to provide lighting, they last up to ten times longer than incandescent bulbs, and they’re more environmentally-friendly to produce, as they reduce the release of mercury into the environment.

What’s not to love, right?

Well, fluorescent bulbs do contain mercury–as little as 3.5 milligrams and as many as 15, depending on the type of fluorescent lamp, the manufacturer and when the lamp was produced. While the amount of mercury in a single fluorescent bulb is negligible, millions of bulbs are manufactured and sold in the United States each year, and many of them are not properly discarded.

Luckily, bulbs can be collected as “universal waste,” a classification that includes several common waste items, including batteries and pesticides. Management and disposal of fluorescent light bulbs and other mercury-containing bulbs, however, must be handled in accordance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Universal Waste Rule (UWR). As a result, many companies have instituted a ten-step process for recycling mercury-containing bulbs responsibly and efficiently.

Let’s take a look at those 10 steps, as outlined by the EPA:

  1. Assess Your Facility: There are several questions you should ask when assessing your facility. For example, how many fluorescent bulbs are in your facility? Were are they located? How often are they replaced? How many do you go through each month or year? How are you handling and storing used bulbs? Do your employees know how to handle and store those bulbs?
  2. Learn State and Federal Requirements: It’s important that you know the rules and regulations for managing fluorescent waste lamps, especially in your state.
  3. Select a Recycler: Find a company that recycles used mercury-containing lamps. It is up to you to determine which service will best suit your needs, and there are several factors to consider, including price and frequency of pickup.
  4. Establish Protocols for Managing Used Fluorescent Lamps. Designate an area in your facility to store used lamps. The area should be dry and secluded. Ideally, it will also involve an air system that is independent from the rest of your facility.
  5. Safely Handle and Store Used Fluorescent Lamps. Used lamps should be placed in closed, structurally sound containers that show no evidence or leakage, spillage or any other release of hazardous materials. One option is to store bulbs in their original boxes–or in the boxes of replacement bulbs. You can also purchase containers specifically designed to store lamps until you are ready to recycle them. Do not tape lamps together or bind them with rubber bands. You are, however, encouraged to tape lids for added security. If you do, it is recommended that you use three-inch PVC (polyvinyl chloride) tape. Have your recycling company tell you how to mark each box – universal waste lamps, waste lamps, used lamps, etc. All lamps should be recycled within one year.
  6. Properly Manage Broken Lamps: Create protocols for clean-up and removal of broken lamps. You should discuss these protocols with your entire staff, but you may find it easier to put one or two people in charge of this.
  7. Choose a Procedure for Transferring Bulbs to the Recycler. There are many options from which to choose, including a pick-up service (the recycler comes to you) and self-transport (you go to the recycler). It is up to you determine which transfer procedure is best for you and your company. In general, pick-up services are better for larger companies, while self-transport may be more ideal for smaller companies.
  8. Educate Your Employees on the Process. Go over this entire process with your employees and educate them on the benefits and potential dangers of fluorescent bulbs.
  9. Record and Track All Recycling Data: Request documentation from your recycling company that all waste lamps have been properly recycled. Keep that paperwork in a safe place in case questions are ever raised about the quality or validity of your recycling endeavors.
  10. Include Recycling Costs in Your Annual Budget: Cost depends on the number of lamps being recycled, the types of lamps being recycled and the manner in which those lamps are picked up or transported. Be sure to allow for those costs in your budget.

“These are a few simple tips to get you started,” Hazardous Waste Experts CEO Mark Hope said. “Please contact Hazardous Waste Experts for more information on fluorescent bulbs and universal waste in general.”

Disposal of hazardous waste doesn’t have to be painful.