Ask the Expert: Waste Disposal

Can I Recycle Lamps and Bulbs?

You can’t just throw lamps in the trash. Lamps contain mercury and in most cases are considered hazardous. The EPA regulates the management of spent lamps. Most states do not allow hazardous lamps to be disposed in solid-waste landfills.

An environmental concern, mercury is a metallic element that can accumulate in living tissue. In sufficient concentrations, mercury may cause adverse health effects. Sources of mercury in the environment from human activity include coal-burning power plants, batteries, and fluorescent and HID lamps.

Small amounts of mercury are a necessary component in fluorescent and HID lamps, but when a lamp is broken, crushed or dispensed in a landfill or incinerator, mercury may be released to the air, surface water or groundwater. Considering this, it is a good policy to keep the mercury in fluorescent and HID lamps out of the solid waste-stream by recycling.

Lamps can be recycled through a bulk pickup service, prepaid mail-in containers (UNcertified for transit), or drums of crushed lamps using a drum-top lamp-crushing machine. The waste will arrive at a certified recycling facility where lamps are removed from their containers and fed into a specialized machine. The entire process is fully automatic and incorporated in a container in which the air is brought to sub-pressure, thereby preventing mercury from being released into the environment. The phosphor powder is separated from the glass and metal byproducts. Clean glass and aluminum end-caps are separated and stored for re-use. The mercury-bearing powder is collected, and then retorted to drive out the mercury. At the end of the process the glass, metal end-caps, powder and mercury can all be reused.

Once the materials have been fully processed by the recycling facility, an official certificate of recycling will be produced for your recordkeeping.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Michael Tuymer is project manager for Air Cycle Corporation. He can be reached at [email protected] or 800/909-9709.