High intensity discharge lamps, neon/argon lamps, and fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps all contain small amounts of mercury, which the EPA classifies as a universal hazardous waste. Although the EPA’s Universal Waste Rule (UWR) requires the handler of mercury-containing equipment to dispose of it in a way that prevents the release mercury into the environment, the EPA estimates that most mercury-containing lamps sold in the US are not disposed of properly.
The owner of the lamp is liable forever, regardless of where the lamp ends up, so it’s important to understanding federal and local policies surrounding the proper disposal of mercury-containing lamps. Buildings magazine online provides some best practices for developing an environmentally responsible recycling program for spent lamps containing mercury.
Begin by assessing your facility’s needs and research federal and state recycling programs for mercury-containing lamps. Because federal, state and municipal regulations vary, it can be challenging for multistate businesses to create a uniform policy.
There will be costs associated with lamp recycling, so it’s good practice to budget for it. In addition to the recycling itself, budget for employees to be trained on how to manage universal waste.
There are an increasing number of service providers that claim to recycle hazardous waste. Engage with a legitimate provider that has experience processing and recovering mercury. Choose a vendor that includes the type of service that works for you, whether it includes on-site pick-up or prepaid recycling kids for small volumes of lamps.
Maintain complete recycling records. To verify that waste is going to the right place, get a certificate of recycling from the destination facility. This also serves as protection in the event of an enforcement action.
The LED lamp recycling process is similar to the process for mercury-containing lamps. Although LEDs do not contain mercury or lead, they also should be recycled to recover materials like aluminum.
In 2013, Veolia Environmental Services’ Port Washington, Wisconsin, facility achieved approved processor status for the Take Back the Light program, allowing the facility to recycle fluorescent and other mercury bearing lamps.
Photo Credit: spent fluorescent lamps via Shutterstock