At one time, we simply sent old fluorescent or high intensity discharge (HID) lamps to landfills. In fact, we often sent them there with little regard to whether they broke along the way or not.
In response to the concern over the small amounts of mercury in the lamps, some companies and municipalities built lamp incineration facilities. This option, however, has fallen short of its promises and is rapidly giving way to lamp recycling.
Lamp recycling considerably reduces landfill waste mass. Studies show lamp recycling is superior to incinerating, when it comes to reducing mercury releases to the environment. Because of this information, regulatory agencies are looking at lamp recycling as an excellent way to accommodate the demands of some very vocal constituencies.
You can short-circuit this process, to the detriment of all affected parties, if you don't understand how to comply with disposal requirements. Keep in mind, the issue here is not whether the mercury your lamps release will materially affect the environment. This issue is not the one that gave birth to today's regulations: it's not likely even 1/1000th of the world's mercury emissions come from fluorescent lamps. But regulations do exist, and the issue you must address is regulatory compliance. Compliance requires attention to some very simple rules and is far cheaper than the costs of battling punitive remedies that may go beyond simply paying expensive fines.
State and federal regulations, regardless of locality, require you to ship used lamps intact and in packaging that prevents their breakage during normal handling. The illustrations (on page 54) give you the facts on disposing of lamps in a manner that meets the spirit and intent of today's legislation.
SUGGESTED READING EC&M article: "Fluorescent Lamp Disposal: Don't Let It Trash Your Profits," April, 1997 issue. For copies, call (913)-967-1946. There is a fee of $10 for the first article ordered and $5 for every subsequent article.