Fluorescent Lamp Disposal: Box and Store vs. Bulb Crushing

July 24, 2018

Because of the mercury in fluorescent lamps, take special precautions when storing and disposing of them.

Behold, the ubiquitous T8 linear fluorescent lamp – a longtime friend to facilities nationwide. 

Facilities have become dependent on the fluorescent lamp and its energy-efficient ability to provide abundant light. And why shouldn’t they? The linear fluorescent lamp is a long-lasting light source with good beam spread to provide even ambient light.

Related: How to Manage your First Lighting Retrofit

Fluorescent fixtures are versatile and can be used in a wide array of configurations. From dustproof enclosures in industrial applications to open troffers in general offices, fluorescent lighting is everywhere light is needed.

Technology has improved the quality of light produced. No longer only available in cool white, fluorescent manufacturers have increased the color temperatures and wavelengths to make the lamps easier on peoples’ eyes.

But what are we supposed to do with the spent bulbs? Fluorescent lamps rely on mercury vapor to work, and mercury is a dangerous toxin. While the bulbs are safe and reliable in their fixtures, once they’ve run their operational life, they become something of an inconvenience.

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The EPA requires all non-residential fluorescent lamp users to dispose of their spent lamps in an environmentally conscious way. Because the lamps contain mercury, even at such small quantities, the EPA considers them hazardous waste. By law, all non-residential fluorescent lamp users must recycle their bulbs.

EPA Compliance for Fluorescent Lamp Disposal

So, how does a facility stay EPA-compliant?

The answer is simple. A facility must collect all of its waste bulbs and have them picked up periodically by an authorized hazardous waste handler.

However, there’s a catch.

Because of the mercury in the lamps, take special precautions when storing them. The EPA requires that the lamps be held in suitable conditions. Take special care to prevent accidental breakage and potential release of the mercury.

If you’re going to box and store your waste lamps, follow these rules:

  • Boxes should be made of crush-resistant corrugated cardboard.
  • All bulbs must be sealed within the box; (0.7 to 1.1 mil low density bagging, tightly knotted or closed with a twist tie inside the box) or specially designed vapor-lock box.
  • Boxes must be labeled (i.e. universal waste lamps, waste lamps or used lamps).
  • Don’t tape or band lamps together.
  • Boxes must be sealed (EPA three-inch polyvinyl chloride tape is recommended) and include the date when the first lamp was put in it.
  • Lamps need to be recycled within one year of the first lamp being stored.

This method takes up space and is somewhat complex. Some facilities have gone with a different system for collecting and storing their waste bulbs.

Other Bulb Disposal Options

Drum-top bulb crushing machines can compact the spent bulbs and safely capture the mercury contained within. This option is particularly convenient when your facility chooses to do large bulb replacement projects.

A steel drum can hold up to 1,350 T8 linear bulbs when crushed. By crushing bulbs, you can fit three times the spent bulbs as boxing and storing the bulbs. 

However, bulb crushing isn’t right for every facility. Drum-top machines aren’t approved for use in some states, but where allowed, it’s a great option for facilities that are replacing a large number of bulbs throughout the year. 

A pallet container is another option that works especially well for facilities that are in locations that don’t allow drum-top bulb crushing. 

Don't Let Mercury Contamination Close Your Facility

Regardless of how you handle your spent lamps, it’s extremely important that you do so properly. You must never throw spent fluorescent lamps in the dumpster. You risk breakage and mercury contamination if bulbs aren’t disposed of properly. No facility manager wants to have to close a building because of an unnecessary mercury contamination.

On topic: LED vs. Fluorescent: Are Linear LEDs Ready to Replace Your T8s?

Many companies claim to be handling their fluorescent waste properly, but lack the certified equipment to complete the job. Only an EPA-certified hazardous waste handler can transport and dispose of fluorescent lamps.

Be sure to choose a reputable, registered hazardous waste handler for your fluorescent bulbs, mercury containing equipment (like lab thermometers), batteries, insecticides and other chemicals. 

Bobby Farris is General Manager of TerraCycle Regulated Waste. TerraCycle’s Regulated Waste division provides products and services to facilitate the effective and compliant management of regulated, universal and hazardous waste.

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