Last updated on January 21, 2021
Eventually those long fluorescent light bulbs that have been flickering in the ceiling for months will burn out, and when they do, don’t throw them into the dumpster or dispose of them as hazardous waste. Instead, recycle them as Universal Waste. Fluorescent bulbs, including compact florescent lamps (CFLs) or u-shaped lamps and other high intensity discharge (HID) lamps, contain the hazardous material mercury and thus are regulated by the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) under the Universal Waste Rule. The EPA created the Universal Waste Rule for certain wastes that are generated in a wide variety of settings including homes and businesses, and are able to have their hazardous components removed for the purpose of recycling. The Universal Waste Rule encourages proper disposal and limits the burdens of storage, handling, treatment, and recordkeeping associated with other types of hazardous waste.
Many states follow the federal guidelines for disposal of Universal Waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), but some states, and even counties, enforce stricter standards. While not as heavily enforced as other regulated wastes, such as biohazardous and hazardous, universal wastes, including all florescent lamps should be managed and disposed of properly to protect the environment and people from toxic materials.
The cost for proper management of fluorescent lamps at their end of life is easy and affordable with the proper guidance. All businesses, small and large, should have a universal waste plan for proper management that includes classification, storage, transportation, and recycling or disposal.
Step 1: Classifying Your Waste
Classifying waste at the point of generation is the first step to a successful program. Identifying which wastes from your business are hazardous and which can be handled as universal wastes, such as fluorescent bulbs and other mercury–containing devices, must be accomplished before determining which waste belongs in which waste stream. Please note that other waste items including batteries, pesticides, and electronic waste can be handled as Universal Waste as well.
Step 2: Storing Your Waste
The next step in managing universal waste includes utilizing storage containers that are marked with appropriate UN and DOT labels. Storing universal waste in containers not marked with the correct labels could result in fines from the EPA or DOT. The same as with biohazardous and hazardous wastes, the generator of universal waste has a cradle-to-grave responsibility for its proper handling and disposal.
Step 3: Transporting and Treating Your Waste
Utilizing a proper transport method in addition to a treatment process that recycles your Universal Waste is best for the environment. Approximately 680 million mercury-containing lamps are discarded each year with only about 25%-30% being properly recycled in accordance with applicable state and federal regulations. Virtually every component of a fluorescent lamp can be recycled, including metal end-caps, lamp glass, and the mercury phosphor powder. When recycled properly, a continuous vacuum filtration process is used as lamps are safely crushed and materials are separated. The glass and aluminum are recycled for use in other products, while the mercury-bearing phosphor powder is captured safely and sent to a mercury retort facility for recovery and reuse.
Sharps Compliance can help develop a program for properly managing your facility’s universal waste. Contact one of our sales representatives for a free, no obligation quote, or shop our online store for all-inclusive ship back systems for fluorescent bulb recycling, battery recycling, mercury recycling, and more.