Why Fluorescent Light Bulbs?
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and fluorescent light tubes use 75% less energy than their incandescent counterparts, and this efficiency makes them the go-to light source for businesses, municipal buildings, hospitals, and schools.
CLFs can also last up to ten times longer than incandescent bulbs, and since they use much less electricity, carbon dioxide emissions are reduced as a result.
The use of fluorescent lighting also diminishes our dependence on coal-based power plants, and since coal also contains trace amounts of mercury, the emissions of mercury by burning coal are curtailed with the use of CFLs.
Yet these fluorescent bulbs, and also high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps and neon light bulbs, contain small amounts of highly toxic mercury, which is classified as a hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
Because of these admittedly small amounts of mercury—5 milligrams or less—these bulbs cannot be simply thrown out in the dumpster or treated as municipal waste, as CFLs can break down and release their toxic contents when discarded in these ways.
All mercury-containing light bulbs be disposed of regularly and in a legal manner to avoid the effects of mercury emissions on the environment.
One of the main hazards of mercury exposure is its tendency to buildup in the atmosphere. This buildup eventually falls down as rain and snow, polluting land and surface water.
It can also accumulate in animal tissue, in a process called ‘bioaccumulation’. You have probably heard about this phenomenon affecting fish in surface lakes and ponds, as mercury accumulation renders their consumption dangerous.
Managing and Recycling CFLs
Luckily, under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Universal Waste Rule, many mercury-containing light bulbs can be treated as non-hazardous waste, if properly recycled.
The EPA-recommended method for the safe disposal of all types of fluorescent light bulbs is actually recycling. But it is a good idea to take a few assessments about your type of business and your location’s local and state regulation before you begin to decide how to manage your old, broken, or unused fluorescent lights.
Depending on how many CFLs you have in your facility, the easiest method of recycling may vary.
If you only have a few fluorescent light bulbs needing recycling, you may be able to take advantage of your local county’s household hazardous waste (HHW) drop off site. If you are smaller company without a large amount of fluorescent tubes needing disposal, use a resource like Earth911.org to find a CFL drop off location near you.
If you have dozens or hundreds of CFL bulbs, you may need the pick-up services of a hazardous waste recycler, whereby you can schedule the recycler to collect bulk pick-ups of fluorescent bulbs.
The location of your business also matters in determining the best course of action for managing your universal waste, CFLs included. For instance, some states actually require recycling by law, such as
- New Hampshire,
- Vermont, and
Dealing With Broken Fluorescent Bulbs
Broken CFLs can also pose an immediate threat to workplace safety. The EPA has laid out specific guidelines for the cleanup of these broken bulbs. These tips are as follows:
- Have all personnel leave the room
- Open a window or otherwise air the room out for 10 to 15 minutes
- Shut off your HVAC system, if applicable
- Scoop up all shards of glass, powder, and metal filaments using a stiff piece of cardboard
- Vacuum up any remaining dust or powder
- Place all cleanup materials, including any used vacuum cleaner bags, in a sealable container or trash bag, and leave outside until the debris and materials can be disposed of
- Contact a local recycling company or take all materials to a community drop-off location to dispose of the broken bulbs
By utilizing these tips to take care of your used, burnt out, or broken CLFs, you can reduce your overall costs, ensure workplace safety, and prevent mercury pollution in the environment.
Properly recycling or disposing of your old mercury-containing light bulbs shouldn’t be a challenge, so if you would like further assistance on how to deal with your fluorescent light bulbs, give us a call at 800-936-2311 today. Or, for more information on all types of universal wastes, take a moment to download our free whitepaper, Hazardous Waste: Basics for the First Time Generator.
Photo credit: jon collier via compfight