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checkFluorescent Lighting Management and Recycling

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A combined fluorescent lighting purchasing and recycling program is a cost-effective and efficient way to save money and energy in your healthcare facility. Modern fluorescents provide energy saving solutions and reduce emissions harmful to the environment. Fluorescent lighting products qualified with the energy star symbol use at least 2/3 less energy than standard lighting, generate 70% less heat, and last up to 10 times longer; each qualified compact fluorescent light (CFL) used prevents over 450 pounds of emissions from power plants*. Recycling programs can often be conducted through bulb vendors. Properly managed, recycling reduces mercury emissions and minimizes liabilities. * ENERGY STAR,

  • Project Talking Points

    • Fluorescent lamps are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs and last 6 to 10 times longer.
    • Millions of mercury-containing lamps are sold in the United States each year, and most are improperly discarded. Although the amount of mercury in a single fluorescent lamp is small, collectively, large numbers of fluorescent lamps contribute to the amount of mercury that is released into the environment. In some states, recycling mercury containing bulbs is mandatory (or to be more specific, it is against the law to put them in landfills).
    • Lighting manufacturers have greatly reduced the amount of mercury used in lighting over the past 20 years, but they are not yet able to completely eliminate the need for mercury. The amount of mercury in a fluorescent lamp ranges between 3.5 to 15 milligrams, depending on the type of fluorescent lamp, the manufacturer, and when the fluorescent lamp was manufactured.
    • Electrical generation from coal-burning power plants also releases mercury into the environment. The use of fluorescent bulbs in place of incandescent bulbs lowers energy use and thus reduces the associated release of mercury from many power plants.
    • Ballasts are essential because they manage the lamp's operation and prevent blow outs that could result from an ever increasing flow of current. An electronic fluorescent ballast is key to energy savings because their rate of operation is more controlled, and because electronic fluorescent ballasts operate at cooler temperatures compared to magnetic ballasts, and can thus reduce office cooling costs.
    • Other materials in the bulbs get reused.
      • Recycling CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs allows the reuse of the glass, metals and other materials that make up fluorescent lights. Virtually all components of a fluorescent bulb, including metal end caps, glass tubing, and phosphor powder, can be separated and recycled. Recyclers often sell the metallic portions as scrap metal.
      • The recycled glass can be remanufactured into other glass products.
      • The mercury can be recycled into new fluorescent lamps and other mercury-containing devices.
    • If the use of lamp crushers or drum-top is your policy, please note that lamp crushing may be banned in your state, or you may need a special permit. 
      • Why? Lamp crushing can release mercury into the air and pose a health threat to crusher operators and building occupants if the crusher is not operating properly. Drum-top crushing is practiced using a mechanical device that fits on top of a 55-gallon collection drum. Whole lamps are broken in the system but components are not separated, and the drum will contain hazardous mercury, phosphor powder, glass and mixed metals. Crushing lamps into drums releases mercury into the filter, which also becomes hazardous.
  • Triple Bottom Line Benefits

    Cost Benefits: Although fluorescent and compact fluorescent bulbs have a higher initial cost than incandescent bulbs, they pay for themselves many times over by saving energy over their lifetime. Converting to all electronic ballast systems will further impact the bottom line by reducing cooling costs. There is also the avoidance of regulatory fines associated with improper disposal. The fines can range from $500-$37,500 per violation occurrence per day; however fines vary by state and the inspector on site.  

    Environmental Benefits: Recycling used fluorescent lamps results in cleaner air and water by significantly reducing mercury emissions, as well as waste in landfills and other toxic material disposal.

    Social Benefits: Mercury is a potent, developmental neurotoxin that can damage the brain, liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. By properly recycling mercury containing bulbs, you are directly reducing the amount of mercury entering the environment and the associated human health risks.

  • Purchasing Considerations

    • General criteria that should be considered when selecting a recycler:
      • Is the recycler in compliance with all federal and state regulations? Are there any outstanding violations, with either the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)? You will be liable if the vendor or subcontractor(s) improperly disposes of your waste lamps. 
      • Are they on the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) list of recyclers?
      • Does the vendor recycle all of the bulbs components? (glass, metal, and mercury)
      • Does the recycling vendor process in the US or export materials for recycling? Processing these materials within the US not only creates jobs, but reduces the environmental impacts associated with transporting these materials.  
      • Confirm the paper work conforms to your hazardous waste needs.
      • Request the recycle vendor provides monthly metrics and reporting data that can be measured as part of your comprehensive waste metrics and reporting program. This data can also be used to show compliance with LEED / GGHC certifications. Consider incorporating metrics and reporting data into the vendor business review process.
      • Request the vendor retain a record of your manifest documentation.
      • Leverage your recycling vendor to provide education and training to appropriate staff on proper packaging, storage, spill/breakage procedures, etc.
  • How-To

    1. Check out other good resources to educate yourself on the issues.  For example:  EPA's how to establish a recycling program for mercury-containing light bulbs, and Practice Greenhealth’s 10-step guide to implementing a fluorescent recycling program.
    2. Ask your recycler and or lamp vendor for training materials, posters, spill kit materials, or anything else to help you launch and manage your program. They are often the best resource.
    3. Understand which bulbs contain mercury or other hazardous materials. Examples include:
      • Fluorescent bulbs, including compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
      • High intensity discharge (HID) bulbs, which include mercury vapor bulbs, metal halide, and high-pressure sodium bulbs used for streetlights, floodlights, parking lots, and industrial lighting.
      • Neon/argon lamps commonly used in the electric sign industry.
    4. Key questions to ask your facility as you assess and implement a recycling program:
      • How many fluorescent lamps are in the facility?
      • Do you have a regular re-lamping schedule, and/or how often do you change your fluorescent lamps?
      • Do you track how much time is spent changing bulbs? 
      • How many fluorescent lamps are you disposing of each month and year?
      • How are you handling and storing the used lamps?
      • Do all employees know what to do with a used fluorescent lamp? A broken fluorescent lamp?
    5. Select a Recycler that is sponsored by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA). Check listings of companies claiming to recycle or handle spent mercury-containing lamps. Click here to find the lamp-recycling centers near your facility.
    6. Ensure all contractors (hazardous waste transporter, cleaning company, or electrical contractors), are in compliance with federal and state regulations You will be liable if the subcontractor improperly disposes of your waste lamps.  For more information read this from the EPA.
    7. Inform employees about the dangers of mercury in fluorescent lamps and your facility’s decision to recycle all fluorescent lamps.
    8. Develop procedures to minimize breakage but also to clean up broken bulbs.  All handlers of universal waste need to train their employees on the proper management and disposal of universal waste and all associated emergency procedures. If you are storing fluorescent lamps, your employees should know what to do if one breaks. Lamps waiting to be recycled should be stored in containers or packages that are closed and structurally sound to prevent breakage and that are compatible with the contents of the lamp.  Employees should be trained in accordance with:

    Universal Waste Rule (40 CFR 273) requirements for small quantity handlers of universal waste (40 CFR 273.16) and large quantity handlers of universal waste (40 CFR 273.36)

  • Tools

    If you have an ROI tool, calculator, or similar resources to share, please contact us or participate in the discussion below.

  • Case Studies

    Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York recently replaced standard fluorescent tubes and incandescent lamps in one of its facilities with high-efficiency fluorescent lamps, electronic ballasts, and new reflectors. As a result, lighting energy use in the one million square foot facility was cut almost in half, saving $485,000 per year and yielding a 45% annual return on a $1,086,000 investment[1].

    [1] U.S. Department of the Interior,

  • Regulations, Codes and Standards, Policies

    • Some states have regulations that are more stringent than federal regulations, and some states ban lamps to land fill or the use of onsite bulb crushers, therefore consult with your state hazardous waste program to determine legal requirements for proper handling, storage, and shipping. Check out the EPA state listing.
  • Cross References: GGHC

    GGHC Operations - Version 2.2, 2008 Revision:

    • Chemical Management, Prerequisite 3, Community Contaminant Reduction: Leaks & Spills
    • Facilities Management, Prerequisite 1, Energy Efficiency Best Management Practices: Planning, Documentation & Opportunity Assessment
  • Cross References: EEP

    Minimize the potential for mercury release. Consideration of different types of lights based on component mix.

  • PIM Synergies

  • Education Resources

    If you have any information or resources to contribute, please contact us or participate in the discussion below.

  • More Resources

  • PIM Descriptors

    Supply Chain, Waste

    Level: Beginner

    Category List:

    • Lighting
    • Universal Waste
    • Waste and Recycling

    PIM Attributes:

    • Energy
    • Waste Reduction
    • Water

    Improvement Type:

    • Recycling
    • Toxics Reduction
    • Waste Minimization


    • Engineering/Facilities Management
    • Environmental Services
    • Purchasing/Materials Management/Supply Chain
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