Mercury Clearinghouse - Mercury Lamp Recycling
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 email@example.com.
- Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New York*, Rhode Island, and Vermont require any type of mercury-added lamp used in commercial, industrial, or institutional facilities to be managed as a universal or hazardous waste. This means all mercury-added lamps must be treated, disposed, or recycled at an authorized destination facility. Households must also comply in Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont.
- New Hampshire and New Jersey require commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities to manage all mercury-added lamps failing TCLP for mercury as universal or hazardous wastes. This means that all mercury-added lamps failing the TCLP must be treated, disposed, or recycled at an authorized destination facility.
Written Notification for Large Use Lamp Purchasers:
- Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island require vendors selling mercury-added lamps to the owner or manager of an industrial, commercial, or office building, or to any person who replaces or removes from service outdoor mercury-containing lamps, to inform these customers that the lamps contain mercury and may not be placed in solid waste destined for disposal. This notification must be given in writing on the invoice. Retail establishments are exempt.
- Connecticut and Maine additionally require contractors removing such lamps from commercial property to inform the property owner in writing that the lamps contain mercury and cannot be disposed in the regular trash, and to provide a plan for proper management of the lamps.
State Specific Regulations:
* Small businesses in New York with 100 or less employees generating 15 or less waste lamps per month are not required to manage as hazardous waste TCLP-passing lamps
TCLP is a Federal EPA test method that is used to characterize waste as either hazardous or non-hazardous for the purpose of disposal. TCLP is an acronym for Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure. The TCLP test measures the potential for mercury (or another chemical) to seep or “leach” into groundwater from waste potentially disposed in a landfill. In the TCLP test, lamps are crushed into small pieces and mixed with an acidic solution. The acidic solution is then filtered from the lamp pieces. If less than 0.2 mg of mercury are found per liter of acidic test solution, the waste is characterized as non-hazardous waste under federal law.
Low mercury, “green end” or “environmentally preferable” fluorescent lamps are developed by lamp manufacturers to pass the TCLP test; however, some manufacturers use additives to influence the TCLP test and mask the true mercury content of the lamp. Furthermore, the TCLP test is irrelevant for lamps that are burned in an incinerator; all of the mercury content of these lamps will be released into the atmosphere. For these reasons it is best to handle all mercury lamps, including those that pass TCLP, as hazardous or universal waste.
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.
Straight Fluorescent Bulbs (such as T8s and T12s) and Black Lights
U-Style and Circular Fluorescent Bulbs
Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)
CFLs are commonly used in homes as energy saving lighting.
High Intensity Discharge (HID) Lamps
There are three types of HID lamps:
- Mercury Vapor Lamps
- High Pressure Sodium Lamps
- Metal Halide Lamps
HID lamps are commonly used in security, outdoor and warehouse lighting. HID lighting is also becoming popular for indoor use in commercial settings and in vehicle headlamps. (Click here for additional information on HID headlamps)
UV lamps are frequently used for germicidal purposes, such as in water and air purifying. They are also used in tanning salons.
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.
NEWMOA developed state-specific, 3-panel, table-top displays, for promoting lamp recycling.
National Electronics Manufacturing Association’s (NEMA) Lamp Recycling Website
Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers Website