I was working at my desk when I became aware of an incessant buzzing emanating from one of the fluorescent light bulbs directly over my workspace. It appeared that a call to building services was in order to replace a bulb that had clearly reached the end of its life. As I waited for maintenance to come replace the bulb I thought about all of the people toiling under similar lights, and wondered if they ever thought about the proper and legal way to dispose of such a common item.
When people think of electronic waste (eWaste) they generally think about computers, printers, cell phones, television sets and computer monitors. These are all items that the state of California stipulates cannot be legally thrown in the trash. These and other eWaste items must be properly collected and disposed of by registered eWaste handlers. However, one of the most prevalent eWaste items that is found in every house and building and is probably hanging over your head as your read this must also be treated as Universal Waste: fluorescent light bulbs! Here is a great article from the California Department of Toxic Substances Control: It is Illegal to Discard Fluorescent Light Tubes/Lamps in the Trash!
How is mercury used in a fluorescent light bulb?
A standard fluorescent light bulbs contains 8-14 milligrams of mercury while the newer ‘green-cap” bulbs contain 3-4 milligrams of mercury. I wondered why mercury is required in fluorescent bulbs and a quick internet search informed me that “The electric current excites the mercury vapor in the tube, generating radiant energy, primarily in the ultraviolet (UV) range. The energy causes a phosphor coating on the inside of the tube to “fluoresce,” converting the UV light into visible light.” More technical details can be found here: Mercury Fact Sheet.
Why use fluorescent light bulbs if they contain mercury?
Fluorescents are 4-6 times more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs because they require less energy to provide equivalent lumens of light. This decrease in electrical demand lowers overall energy use and thus reduces the associated release of mercury from coal-fired electricity-generating power plants. Almost all of the mercury gets released as mercury vapor into the atmosphere. Fluorescent bulbs also last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and are therefore less expensive to operate over time, saving you money.
Environments Benefits of Fluorescent Light bulb Recycling
The environmental benefits of recycling fluorescent bulbs include keeping mercury out of the atmosphere and ultimately the soil and water supply, and the ability to reuse the glass, metal, and even the mercury for new light bulbs. More information can be found from the Environmental Protection Agency here: Universal Waste Lamp Management.
Recycle San Diego’s Solution for Businesses
Recycle San Diego is pleased to announce that they will provide businesses free corrugate packing supplies for four foot long T-8 and T-12 light bulbs (see picture). By providing this free service we enable businesses to minimize breakage and safely store their bulbs until they call for our prompt and safe pick-up service that takes the discarded light bulbs to our registered collection facility. The EPA has a document that addresses the topics and protocols a business should know regarding the proper handling of fluorescent bulbs and well as clean up and storage procedures: EPA Cleanup Procedures.
More information can be found on our website here: Recycle San Diego Battery and Light Bulb Recycling.
Gordon Danielson – Marketing & Events Manager