These days, it seems everyone is jumping on the “green” bandwagon — including many companies in the electrical construction industry. Concern for the environment, combined with the desire to reduce energy consumption, has led to the widespread use of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). In addition to being four times more efficient and lasting up to 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs (based on some manufacturers' claims), CFLs use 50% to 80% less energy than their traditional counterparts. According to Roxanne Smith, press officer for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., “If every home in America replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an Energy Star-qualified CFL, the United States would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars annually.”
Despite these advantages, CFLs have one drawback: They contain mercury — a toxic chemical that, when improperly disposed of, is hazardous to both the environment and human beings.
“CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing — an average of 5 milligrams,” says Smith. “No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact or in use. Because CFLs are made of glass and can break if dropped or roughly handled, care needs to be taken in removing the bulb from its packaging, installing it, or replacing it. That said, mercury is a potent neurotoxin that presents the most risk to pregnant women and children.”
When it comes to environmental hazards, Smith says the main threat is from improper disposal. “Releases can occur if CFLs break during transportation or during placement in the landfill,” she notes. “However, we do not expect landfill releases to be a source of significant releases to the environment.”
Although lamp recycling is mostly governed at the local or state level, Smith says the EPA is seeking to encourage local programs and is working with bulb manufacturers and retailers to promote both local and national recycling programs.
“EPA has awarded grants to state and non-profit organizations through its National Mercury Lamp Recycling Outreach Program,” she says. “In addition, EPA communicates with a number of states on their lamp recycling programs. As a result of state input, EPA is pursuing a number of mechanisms for providing outreach directly to consumers, businesses, and state programs.”
For example, the EPA has launched the first phase of a lamps Web site (“Where You Live,” www.epa.gov/epahome/whereyoulive.htm), which provides state-by-state information on regulations, local recycling facilities, household hazardous waste collection programs, and state-specific fact sheets.
“Businesses should be aware that disposal or recycling of spent fluorescent bulbs may be regulated,” adds Smith. “However, these lamps are eligible for special conditions as ‘universal wastes.’” For information on universal waste, visit www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/id/univwast/lamps/lamps.htm.
The list of Lamp Recyclers includes members of the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers (ALMR) that either claim to recycle spent mercury-containing lamps or handle such lamps so that they end up at a recycling facility. (Persons contacting the listed companies should make their own investigations and determinations about the costs and appropriateness of the activities of the listed companies.)
Earth Protection Services
Green Lights Recycling
Lamp Recyclers of Louisiana
Mercury Waste Solutions
Northeast Lamp Recycling
Uni Waste Services