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Mercury Lamp Recycling

Fluorescent and high intensity discharge (HID) lamps contain mercury, a potent nerve toxin. Mercury can harm the brain, liver, and kidneys and can cause developmental disorders in children. When lamps and other products containing mercury are placed in the trash, the mercury can find its way into the air, water, and soil. In water bodies, mercury can bio-accumulate in the food chain. More than 40 states have issued advisories warning pregnant women and young children not to eat certain fish that may be contaminated with mercury.

All mercury-containing lamps, regardless of the amount of mercury, should be handled as a hazardous (“universal”) waste and stored carefully to avoid breakage. There are no non-mercury fluorescent or HID lamps available. Green tip or low-mercury fluorescent lighting contains less mercury, but should not be placed in the trash. NEWMOA has conducted several projects to advance recycling of fluorescent lamps.

From 2002-2005 NEWMOA supported outreach to electrical distributors and commercial property managers to promote fluorescent lamp recycling. This Project produced the following guidance materials:

  • Identifying Lamps that Contain Mercury
  • Electrical Distributor Outreach
  • Commercial Property Manager Outreach
  • Other Outreach Materials/Resources

Terri Goldberg, Executive Director of NEWMOA, joined Bruce Gellerman of the radio program “Living on Earth” to talk about the environmental benefits and impact of fluorescents and recycling the bulbs in 2007.

In 2009, NEWMOA prepared the report, Review of Compact Fluorescent Lamp Recycling Initiatives in the US and Internationally, funded under a contract with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

In 2021, NEWMOA completed a research project on the state of recycling and diversion of mercury-containing lamps in Massachusetts. The Report includes made recommendations on how to increase the recovery and safe management of mercury-containing lamps in the state. This work was funded by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

For more information, contact the IMERC Coordinator at

Identifying Lamps that Contain Mercury

Mercury Use in Lighting” [PDF] is a Fact Sheet prepared by IMERC that summarizes the use of mercury in lighting devices, such as fluorescent lamps, automobile headlights, and neon signs. The Fact Sheet covers all the types of lamps that contain mercury in the individual device; the total amount of mercury in all of the devices that were sold as new in the US in 2001 and 2004; mercury lamp recycling/disposal; and non-mercury alternatives.

Electrical Distributor Outreach

NEWMOA’s Lamp Recycling Workgroup conducted outreach to electrical distributors to encourage them to set up reverse distribution, or lamp take-back programs, so that lamp users would have more options for recycling their lamps. NEWMOA believes lamp take-back programs can help address the issue of inconvenience, which is often cited as a reason why lamp users do not recycle their lamps.

Electrical distributors are uniquely positioned to offer their customers a convenient one-stop shopping arrangement for lamp purchasing and spent lamp management. At the same time, distributors stand to make a profit by offering recycling services. As TED (The Electrical Distributor) Magazine says, “Offering a recycling option to customers can be a good ‘value-add’ service for distributors,” TED Magazine, July 2002. Greg Smith of Granite City Electric further adds that, “The real benefit of our recycling program is receiving orders for lamps that we wouldn’t have if we didn’t recycle.”

Electrical distributors can take different approaches to reverse distribution, ranging from simply acting as a broker to picking up spent lamps from customers. See Models of reverse distribution.

Trade magazine articles on reverse distribution:
Green Machine; TED, July 2002 (About Wesco-Bangor)
Upfront: Fluorescent lamp recycling differentiates distributors; TED, November 2004
Lamp recycling: Right, smart; TED, March 2005

Commercial Property Manager Outreach

Following a social marketing model, NEWMOA’s Lamp Recycling Workgroup began its efforts to motivate commercial property managers to recycle their lamps by first investigating the barriers that prevent property managers from recycling, and the incentives that could motivate them to change their behavior. NEWMOA hired social marketing consultant Jan Aceti to conduct this research.

After background research confirmed that barriers preventing property managers from recycling their lamps include cost, perceived lack of convenience, poor awareness, and lack of enforcement. The Workgroup narrowed the focus of its research to:

  • How and where property managers get information
  • How they make decisions about lamp management decisions
  • How they can communicate with tenants
  • How they handle the budget process

For a summary of the findings, see “Management Company Interviews: Promoting Fluorescent Lamp Recycling in the Commercial Sector.

For additional reports prepared by Jan Aceti for NEWMOA:

See Program Survey Report for a summary of innovative programs in the US promoting lamp recycling in the commercial sector.

See Professional Organizations Report for a summary of opportunities for collaboration with professional organizations serving property managers in the northeast.

See ESCO Report for a summary of opportunities for collaboration with energy efficiency organizations, utilities and energy service companies.

Other Outreach Materials & Resources

NEWMOA’s and states’ efforts to promote lamp recycling in the region have focused on electrical distributors and commercial property managers. Visit the links below for copies of the materials developed and distributed under these efforts. Also listed below are links to national organizations that promote lamp recycling. Scroll to the sections for Electrical Distributors and Property Managers for additional information on outreach efforts with these groups.

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NEWMOA Contact
Andy Bray