Fluorescent lights are energy efficient and long-lasting, and when they're spent, they can be recycled.
But, they also contain mercury and lead – two toxic heavy metals considered hazardous waste if released when bulbs break. So when it’s time to replace your fluorescent lights, it’s important to do so safely.
Here are some simple best practices to follow to keep you, your staff and your customers safe the next time your fluorescent light bulbs flicker and fade.
How to start recycling fluorescent light bulbs:
- Set up a bulb collection area
- Find a cardboard box: for tube lights, the box the bulbs came in works well. For smaller bulbs, any box will do.
- Place box in a safe area where it won’t get knocked around.
- Label the box with a poster about proper CFL handling.
- Find where your business will recycle the bulbs
- Create a plan for who will take the bulbs to be recycled when the collection box fills.
- Let coworkers and janitorial staff know about CFL recycling, and show them the bulb collection area.
For more, see How to establish a recycling program for mercury-containing light bulbs
What to do when a fluorescent light bulb burns out:
- Carefully remove the bulb and mark an “X” so you can quickly identify old bulbs when you grab a new one.
- Store used bulbs in a safe place that keeps them in-tact. Broken bulbs release hazardous waste and require special attention.
- Properly recycle used bulbs within one year.
Note: do not put tape or rubber bands on fluorescent bulbs.
Where to recycle bulbs:
- Contact your property manager or garbage company to see if they can recycle fluorescent bulbs for you.
- Join a mail-back service.
- Find a nearby facility that collects and recycles fluorescent bulbs. The find a recycler feature on Metro’s website and Earth 911 are both helpful resources.
Why recycle fluorescent bulbs:
- When fluorescent bulbs break, they release hazardous mercury that is toxic to people.
- Businesses in Oregon discard several million bulbs each year, making them the largest source of mercury in our waste stream.
- When recycled properly, most of the glass, metal and mercury in bulbs can be reused.
How are fluorescent lamps recycled?
- Lamps are crushed in a controlled environment.
- Glass, aluminum and mercury bearing phosphorus powder are separated and captured.
- Mercury is recovered from the mercury phosphorus powder and purified.
- Recovered mercury is used in new fluorescent bulbs, thermometers, barometers and electric devices. Recycled glass can be used to manufacture new glass products or as a cement aggregate. Aluminum is recycled as a metal scrap.