Fluorescent light bulbs are used in most homes across the United States.
Even with the new LED lights that are becoming more and more popular throughout the world, fluorescent lights are still huge in the market.
Hence, disposing of them the right way is extremely important. Not only because it’s environmentally sound, but because they are dangerous to others if not disposed of correctly.
What Are Fluorescent Light Bulbs?
Fluorescent light bulbs are very popular low power choices for light. They use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and this efficiency makes them a better investment.
Hence, they can last much longer without increasing your utility bills. They also last up to 10 times longer than other light sources and use much less power.
This also reduces CO2 emissions. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re completely pollution-free. If not disposed of correctly, they can be very dangerous.
Why Are Fluorescent Light Bulbs a Hazard If They’re Not Disposed Of Correctly?
The Fluorescent light bulbs that most of us use contain a little amount of toxic mercury. This also goes for neon light bulbs and high-intensity discharge lamps.
This mercury is classified as hazardous waste under most environmental regulations. Though this mercury is very small in weight, about 5 mg, the bulbs still shouldn’t be thrown out into the dumpster.
They should also not be treated as municipal waste. When they’re discarded in such ways, they’re not disposed of correctly and can pose a threat.
Bear in mind that the mercury in fluorescent bulbs isn’t a threat while it’s inside the bulb. It prevents the mercury from being released into the air and poses no threat to you.
One of the ways that mercury is a threat is that it builds up in the atmosphere. It can fall as rain and snow. It can pollute the land and the water supply. It can also enter your food and cause poisoning. This is why the right disposal is very important.
The accumulation within water sources and animal tissue is the worst part. This is called bioaccumulation and it transfers the chemical through the food chain.
Hence, even if you dispose of it in some far off place, it can travel back to you. Most often, it travels back from the freshwater sources in the form of fish to your palette.
It’s important to note here that 7 states have banned putting fluorescent light bulbs into landfills. Hence, dumping them in the trash doesn’t do you or the environment any good.
How to Dispose of Fluorescent Light Bulbs
Under the EPA Universal Waste Rule, the mercury-containing light bulbs can be treated as non-hazardous waste if they are recycled. The method that the EPA recommends is to recycle them properly via their guidelines.
However, a few assessments before you proceed with recycling.
The first thing you need to do find out how many lights you need to recycle. The method may change depending on whether you have just one or two or 10-20.
If it’s the former then you can use the local county hazardous waste drop-off site. However, if you’re a commercial workplace with a large number of light bulbs, then you can call a professional.
If you have hundreds of fluorescent light bulbs to dispose of then you’ll need a professional service. Most services do have a cutoff point, however. It’s not like they’ll take any number of light bulbs. Some dispose of a few hundred, others a few thousand.
The location that you’re in also matters. The services that are located in your state or city will have different standards. There’s always the government option that you can take. However, it’s always better to scout out which options you have that can get the job done quickly.
Fluorescent Bulbs Recycling Prep
Remember to follow these steps before you recycle the fluorescent bulbs in your home or your workplace.
- If you have a burnt-out tube that you want to replace and recycle, turn off the fuse box first. It doesn’t have to cut power to the entire house, just turn off the power supply to that room. Use a ladder to climb up and remove the bulb if it’s at a height you can’t reach. You will need to remove the bulb very carefully to stop it from breaking.
- If the tube does break then you can’t recycle it and will have to dispose of it.
- After removing the bulb you should place it back in its original packing. Add some cardboard, paper or bubble wrap for reinforcement.
If there are mail-back services for fluorescent light bulbs, you should contact them before disposing of them. These will usually be provided by the company that makes the bulbs.
There are few and far between, but if you do have this option, go for it. It’s not only easier; it’s the right thing to do. It means they already have a specific procedure in place to recycle the fluorescent lights.
Dealing with Broken Fluorescent Light Bulbs
We’ve all been there. Broken light bulbs are nothing new. However, to stop them from being a hazard to you and the others around you, there are specific steps to follow.
For example, you need to protect people from bodily harm, from poisonous gas, and from inhaling the powder. You also need to clear everything up that has been tangled in any carpets or stuck in any other place around the home.
Hence, you need to be very systematic about this. Luckily, there is a system that you can use, instructed by the EPA, to clear the site of broken bulbs.
What to Do if You Break Fluorescent Bulbs
According to the EPA, dealing with this situation should be very systematic. People can get hurt and get glass stuck in their shoes etc. Hence, if the fluorescent light bulbs break in a room, then follow these tips:
- Clear the room of all personnel who are not involved in the cleanup.
- Open up the room windows and doors to air out any poisonous chemicals like mercury. Make sure that the room has been aerated for at least 15 minutes before you begin the process of cleanup.
- If you can shut off the HVAC system, do it immediately.
- Wear some gloves and get a piece of cardboard or a dustpan and scoop up the shards of glass. Also wear a mask if you can to restrict the mercury entering your nostrils. Make sure you get the powder, the filaments, and anything else that the bulb was comprised of. You can also use sticky tape to pick up small shards and small broken pieces of metal.
- Once you’ve cleared everything up, use a vacuum to suck up the remaining dust.
- If you have any used vacuum cleaner bags then put them in a sealable container. Dispose of these materials properly according to the EPA guidelines.
- Contact a recycling company in your town or city. Ask them to take the materials to a drop off point. In some cases, you can do this yourself.
How to Avoid Breaking Bulbs
To avoid breaking the fluorescent bulbs in your possession, you can do the following things:
- Store them in their original packaging. This will prevent them from moving around inside the boxes that you’ve stored them in. Hence, they’ll have less chance of breaking if you move things around in storage.
- When you transport the bulbs, even if it is for recycling, then you should repack them in their original boxes. Use newspapers and bubble wrap for reinforcement as well. You can even place them in a bag or a box to prevent breaking.
- It’s best to transport them in the trunk of a car for increased safety. For better precautions, you can place the used bulbs in a sealed plastic bag.
Fluorescent light bulbs can cause toxic pollution if they’re not recycled properly. It’s not only your responsibility, but a duty as a member of society to reduce such pollution. Since all of us use fluorescent light bulbs in the home, recycling them properly should become a habit.
It’s something that we will do multiple times in our lives, hence we should do it right every time. Remember to call up local services, the government agencies that dispose of these items, or any other services you know. It costs nothing to find things out.
You may also find the following articles useful: