Today we are all more aware of our impact on the earth and atmosphere.Light Bulbs containing mercury are certainly an element of that.Without getting too technical or detailed, I hope to provide you with the information you need to properly recycle or dispose of these types of light bulbs.This is not meant to be a comprehensive outline of all requirements and regulations.What I do want to do is to give you some general guidance as to what to do with mercury light bulbs and provide resources that give all the nitty gritty details.
What Light Bulbs to Take Care with:
Energy efficient light bulbs containing mercury should always be recycled or disposed of properly if they happen to be broken.Why?For the same reasons that a pregnant lady should not eat deep sea fish, you should minimize the exposure you and your family have to mercury whether it be from a light bulb or from a broken thermometer (the old type).Mercury is used in energy efficient light bulbs:fluorescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent light bulbs and HID lamps (mercury vapor, high pressure sodium and metal halide.)
You might ask why use these light bulbs if they pose a problem to our environment.Manufacturers over the last 20 years have been making huge strides in reducing and eliminating mercury from these energy efficient light bulbs.Using these light bulbs, even though they contain small amounts of mercury, is still better for our environment than using lesser efficient light bulbs.The savings in harmful output by coal burning power plants dramatically outweighs the impact of the mercury in these light bulbs…..especially when we dispose of them properly.The Energy Star website explains how compact fluorescent light bulbs save more than 400 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions out of the atmosphere.
Recycling Light Bulbs:
It is recommended to always recycle mercury light bulbs.Depending on whether you are recycling light bulbs from your home or place of business, your method may be a bit different.Recycling of mercury content light bulbs is done in many places across the country.The EPA website has a wonderful link system that will connect you to licensed companies in your area that will take light bulbs from residential customers and sometimes small businesses.Please visit this for specific requirements in your area.Some companies will dispose of them for free and others may charge a nominal fee.These centers can often recycle multiple parts of the bulb.
If you use these lamps in a large business, you will need to follow more specific rules and steps.Here is a link to the page on the EPA site that outlines this set of guidelines for you.
What do you do if your local environmental regulatory agency provides no disposal options?The EPA recommends that you double bag all fluorescent, compact fluorescent and HID lamps in plastic bags and place them for regular trash pickup.Ultimately, your state EPA may have specific requirements for recycling fluorescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs.Please consult your state or local environmentally regulatory agency.
Three words:Ventilate, Evacuate and Eradicate.These guidelines are for homeowners or small offices only.There are several nevers.Never use the vacuum to clean up the whole thing.Never use a broom to sweep as the will spread the mercury around.Never pour mercury down your sink drain or it could corrode your pipes.Never wash clothes that have come in direct contact. This could damage your washing machine.And finally, never walk around in shoes that have come in direct contact with mercury.
What do you do?Open windows and doors to allow the vapor to escape the area.Turn off your heat/air unit so that the vapors aren’t spread through your home.Have everyone leave the area where the breakage occurred and remove all pets.It’s never a bad idea to wear disposable plastic gloves.If it’s on a hard surface, use a heavy piece of paper or cardboard to scoop up the breakage.If on carpet, carefully pick up the pieces and place them in a glass jar or double bagged plastic bag.Use a heavy duty tape to pick up small particles that aren’t already removed and dispose of in the same jar or bag.If on a hard surface, wipe area clean with a disposable wipe.If on carpet, vacuum the small particles ONLY and dispose of the vacuum bag or wipe the canister clean with a disposable wipe.
Place all clean-up materials outside in an out-of-the way place for the next trash pickup.Some states require certain disposal restrictions.Check with local or state environmental agency to determine rules that apply to you.
Safe and proper disposal or recycling mercury light bulbs that are burned out is always recommended.Most states follow either the federal EPA rules or California’s rules.It’s important to educate your self and help us keep our air clean.
-by Holly Eddins
-Holly has over 10 years experience in the lighting industry