Note: This post is an edited version of a free “green paper” posted by BOMA/Chicago Affiliate Member EverLights on the subject of bulb and ballast recycling.
By Kelly Aaron, President, EverLights
Thousands of businesses and organizations across the United States face the challenge of proper recycling of bulbs and ballasts. Myths and mis-information are widespread, leading even the most law-abiding business and community leaders to make wrong decisions.
A sound recycling strategy starts with knowing the facts. In this post, we’ll demystify the recycling process and provide accurate information. Plus, we’ll share some suggestions on bulb and ballast recycling options for your building or company.
Close to 700 million fluorescent bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are thrown out each year in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) predicts that number will increase in the years ahead.
The EPA has established regulations that govern the collection and management of bulb, compact fluorescent lamps and other widely generated wastes in order to facilitate environmentally sound collection and proper recycling or treatment. Proper recycling not only reduces the release of mercury from spent lamps into the environment, but also allows for the reuse of the glass, metals, and other components of the spent fluorescent lamps.
The Universal Waste Rule allows some flexibility in the collection and storage of lamps prior to disposal and in the transportation of lamps to the lamp recycler. However, it also imposes serious penalties on organizations that fail to properly dispose of their lighting.
Beginning a recycling program is generally easy. Most lamp recyclers offer storage containers, employee training, and a variety of recycling program options. Programs are typically determined by the size of the facility, facility location, storage space and the number of spent lamps generated.
Here are some options:
Dedicated Pick-Up: The lamp recycling company will pick up the lamps from your facility. This program offers added service because the driver typically is more knowledgeable about how the lamps should be staged for the pick-up, can assist with re-packaging lamps if needed, and has extra storage containers on the truck.
Common Carrier: A freight company picks up the lamps from your facility and brings them to the recycling facility for processing. The lamps need to be palletized prior to pick-up. The recycling company can make these arrangements.
Mail-In or Box Program: This option is generally more cost-effective if you generate a relatively small amount of spent lamps. In this type of program, a recycler can provide a container to fill with the spent lamps. When the container is full, it can be sent to the recycler via a prepaid ground mail shipment program.
Self-Transport: If you generate a small amount of lamps, have the capacity to transport them, or are located in close proximity to the recycler, you may choose to transport the spent lamps yourself. Lamp recyclers can provide boxes that are designed to reduce breakage during transport to a recycling facility.
Drum Top Crushing: A drum top crusher (DTC) is a machine that sits on top of a 55 gallon drum. The machine sucks in the bulb like a vacuum, and crushes the tube. This practice makes storage of spent fluorescent lamps easier by minimizing their volume. Commercial DTCs are designed to collect a large portion of the mercury that is found in fluorescent lamps. However, DTCs can also create some mercury exposure and handling issues, as all DTCs release some mercury during lamp crushing.
As long as we continue to rely upon fossil fuels for power generation, light sources containing a minimal amount of mercury for efficient operation will continue to be important in reducing overall mercury emissions. Mercury-free light source alternatives, particularly LEDs, show promise in the future, but their cost must be dramatically improved to offset the total mercury burden.
What kind of bulb and ballast recycling programs are in place at your building or company? Have you documented ways to recycle properly and economically? Please share your thoughts.