Compiled by FacilitiesNet Staff
For all the energy fluorescent lights save, they come with a little string attached. At the end of their lives, the lamps can have a serious but often overlooked impact on the environment: the release of mercury into the environment each time one of the fragile lamps breaks.
So what are the best options for fluorescent lamp disposal?
The Environmental Protection Agency has placed standard fluorescent lamps into a category of hazardous waste known as universal waste. Though the federal government classifies used lamps as hazardous waste, the rules governing spent lamps are regulated at the state level. Because the laws governing lamp disposal vary across the country, know the law in the areas where you have facilities.
Although fluorescent lamp-disposal options vary by state, industry and environmental experts agree that the best choice is to recycle fluorescent lamps. During the past five years, lamp recycling has increased. In 2004, approximately 670 million lamps were used in the United States, of which 525 million were used by businesses and other institutions, say the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) statistics.
Lamp manufacturers have been able to reduce mercury in 4-foot linear lamps by about 80 percent during the past decade. Still, all fluorescent lamps should be recycled, regardless of the amount of mercury, experts say.
In an effort to assist with the recycling process, the Association of Lighting And Mercury Recyclers (ALMR) has created a listing of state-by-state information at its Web site. “Check with your state first,” Abernathy says. “You need to be sure what you do is legal in your state.” The ALMR Web site also offers summary information about EPA regulations for fluorescent lamps.
But facility managers should make sure that the lamps purchased are low mercury to begin with.
“We encourage recycling, but we know that all lamps are not going to get recycled,” says Steve Goldmacher, director of corporate communications for Philips Lighting Co. “And if you start out with the lowest mercury to begin with, you are less likely to have a problem later on.”
When it comes time to choose a recycling method, facility executives have several options. The most common are pick-up services. The used lamps are packed into boxes or fiber drums, and a pick-up is scheduled with a recycling service. While this method is relatively inexpensive, it requires facility executives to store the spent lamps, which they can do for up to a year without a permit, Abernathy says.
A second method is to use pre-paid recycling containers. Facility managers purchase the containers, pack up spent lamps and ship them to a recycler. While this is generally a more expensive choice, it eliminates the need for storage space, as a facility can ship used lamps immediately. The benefit to this method is convenience.
A facility may also have the option of crushing lamps using a controlled emissions lamp crushing system before passing them on to a recycling company. Crushing lamps can reduce their volume, reducing the amount of storage space necessary and possibly reducing transportation costs. But it’s important to understand that the crushers are regulated at the state level. In some jurisdictions they cannot be used because some crushers have been shown to release mercury.
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