Here’s Why …

July 1, 2003
Maximizing Building Performance Through Environmental Strategies - PRODUCTS
Information about energy-efficient lamps and ballasts is fairly easy to find, and the products are offered by many different manufacturers and distributors across the country.With strict federal regulations regarding disposal, and in some cases, even stricter state policies, getting rid of these products once they’re depleted can be a pain. Fluorescent and other lamps fail the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) test due to their mercury content and are classified as hazardous waste; they shouldn’t be tossed out in the trash. But, related recycling and disposal guidelines are sometimes hard to understand, and in most cases, it costs the building owner to dispose of the spent lamps and ballasts safely. This can be enough to turn almost anyone off to the idea of discarding them in an appropriate manner. However, the savings you gain from using energy-efficient lighting can more than pay for the small fee of recycling.But if the facility itself is responsible for paying the disposal costs, why would anyone bother to recycle the lamps and ballasts they use to light their space? Here’s why:Mercury and other metals used in fluorescent and HID lamps are harmful to the environment. They can contaminate lakes, rivers, and oceans – there, mercury is converted into methylmercury (a highly toxic organic form of mercury). Methylmercury can then be consumed by animals and bio-accumulates. This causes small amounts of mercury in smaller animals to become concentrated in larger animals, to levels where their consumption could cause elevated levels of methylmercury in humans.Mercury is toxic to the human nervous system. If not disposed of properly, it can be released and cause neurological damage to unborn children.Inappropriate disposal of mercury-containing lamps can result in fines.Certain ballasts contain PCBs (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) and have been identified as possible carcinogens at certain levels of exposure.Even ballasts using DEHP as a replacement to PCBs need to be handled carefully – DEHP (in its pure form) is also listed as a hazardous substance.Recycling relieves liabilities associated with the disposal of toxic materials.The process of recycling spent lamps removes toxic substances (such as mercury) and leaves the glass, aluminum, and other materials for reuse in the manufacturing of other products. Here’s how the system generally works:1) A negative pressure chamber crushes /implodes lamps.2) Crushed materials are divided into power, glass, and metal.3) Glass is collected and sent for recycling; powder is restored at a high temperature (uncontaminated powder is recovered for reuse, while recovered mercury first undergoes distillation and is then collected in liquid for reuse); metals are separated and sent for recycling.4) Customer receives a Certificate of Recycling for its records.When recycling ballasts, PCB-containing materials (the capacitor and asphalt potting materials surrounding it) are removed for incineration or land disposal. Metals like copper and steel are reused in manufacturing other products.1) Ballasts are inspected for potential leaks. Leaking ballasts are separated for whole ballast incineration. Non-leaking ballasts are dismantled, with capacitors and potting materials removed and metals separated.2) Non-contaminated copper, steel, and aluminum are sent for recycling. Capacitors and potting materials are sent to approved incineration facilities.3) Customer receives Certificate of Recycling for its records.If you’re not currently recycling lamps and ballasts and are interested in doing so, first confirm your state guidelines regarding disposal. Rosslyn, VA-based National Electrical Manufacturers Association sponsors ( to encourage the recycling of spent mercury-containing lamps. The site provides appropriate contact information for all 50 states regarding lamp and ballast recycling guidelines. The site also lists recyclers around the country. Check out the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers ( for a list of recyclers as well.Here, There, & EverywherePart of the process of sustainable design is reviewing and selecting green building products. Fortunately, in recent years there are a number of organizations that support commercial building owners and facilities professionals by certifying these products.Striving to achieve a healthier environment, Washington, D.C.-based Green Seal ( is an independent, non-profit organization that identifies and promotes services and products. Green Seal-certified products cause less pollution and waste, conserve resources, and minimize global warming. Specific programs include:Greening Your Government.Product Standards and Certification.Product Recommendations.Greening the Lodging Industry and Policy. The organization works with manufacturers, purchasing groups, and governments to promote a healthier environment.                 Headquartered in Emeryville, CA, Scientific Certification System’s (SCS’s) environmental division ( covers product manufacturing and under its Environmental Claims Certification program covers specific product attributes. Its Environmentally Preferable Products demonstrate a reduced environmental impact. All of the SCS certification programs are based upon these principles:Independent – following the tradition of auditors in other industries, certification should be granted by a third party with no vested interest in the product.Verifiable – all claims must be scientifically verifiable.Complete – the certification must be a complete process with appropriate checks and balances to ensure the accuracy of the results. The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, an independent, non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., oversees the GREENGUARD  Certification program ( Products are tested for emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, respirable particles, ozone, and other pollutants using stringent environmental chamber protocols.The only independent testing program for low-emitting products, the Institute tests furnishings as part of the U.S. Green Building Council, Washington, D.C.

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