What To Do With Old Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Fluorescent light bulbs have been popular for decades due to their energy efficiency and longevity. However, as technology advances and LED lighting has become more prevalent, leaving households with a surplus of old fluorescent light bulbs. 

Disposing of these bulbs improperly can pose environmental and health risks due to mercury and other harmful substances. In this blog, we’ll explore the importance of proper waste management for old fluorescent bulbs and provide practical solutions for their disposal and recycling.

The End of Fluorescent Bulbs 

light bulbs with a no sign over them

Why are people and businesses converting from fluorescent to LED tubes & lamps?

Old fluorescent bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, a toxic heavy metal that can harm human health and the environment if improperly handled. Fluorescent tubes and lamps create light by activating mercury vapor, which produces ultraviolet light. However, mercury, while moderately harmful in its liquid state, becomes highly dangerous when it turns into gas. It can be easily inhaled into the human body and enter the bloodstream, potentially damaging essential organs.

When these bulbs are thrown into regular trash bins and end up in landfills, the mercury can leach into the soil and water, contaminating ecosystems and potentially entering the food chain. Additionally, the glass and other materials in fluorescent bulbs take a long time to decompose, further contributing to environmental pollution.

This hazardous nature of mercury has led to growing federal, state, and local legislation. Measures include stricter requirements for product labeling, bans on the sale of certain mercury-containing products, and in many places, the prohibition of mercury disposal with requirements for its recycling.

How to Dispose of Fluorescent Light Bulbs 

broken fluorescent light bulb

According to the EPA, you can dispose of used fluorescent tubes and lamps under the standard Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) rules as hazardous waste. Alternatively, they can be managed under the EPA’s Universal Waste Rules, making it wise to consult professionals before taking action.

If you have industrial quantities of used fluorescent tubes and lamps, you can dispose of them as universal waste. This particular set of EPA guidelines is less stringent than the standard RCRA rules, designed to promote and simplify the disposal of certain common types of waste produced by businesses and “non-households,” including fluorescent tubes and lamps.

However, be aware that regional and local regulations on hazardous waste disposal often surpass the EPA’s requirements. This means you still have to comply with the standard RCRA rules. For instance, states like Washington, Vermont, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine, and California outright ban the disposal of mercury-containing tubes and lamps in landfills. 

If you only have a small number of fluorescent tubes and lamps to dispose of, don’t throw them away in regular dumpsters. They will inevitably break when the dumpster is emptied, releasing mercury that will be vaporized into the air during trash incineration. But don’t worry, some likely local retailers will accept old fluorescent tubes and lamps for recycling. Generally, if a store sells these items, they must also offer a recycling service.

Here are some options for fluorescent bulb and lamp disposal: 

Retailer Take-Back Programs

Some retailers that sell fluorescent bulbs have take-back programs to collect and recycle old bulbs. When purchasing new bulbs, ask the retailer about their disposal options for old ones. Some may accept old bulbs for recycling free of charge.

Hazardous Waste Collection Events

Many communities regularly have hazardous waste collection events, where residents can drop off various types of hazardous materials, including old fluorescent bulbs, for safe disposal. Check with your local government or environmental agencies to find out about upcoming collection events in your area.

Recycling Centers

Many municipalities and recycling centers offer specialized programs for fluorescent bulb recycling. These facilities have the equipment and expertise to safely extract and dispose of the mercury while recycling the other components of the bulbs. Contact your local waste management or recycling center to ask about their fluorescent bulb recycling services.

The Legalities of Fluorescent Bulb Disposal 

As stated before, the EPA classifies discarded fluorescent tubes and lamps as hazardous waste due to their mercury content. It’s crucial to recall that under the RCRA, any item that produces hazardous waste is legally held accountable for it, from its inception to its final disposal (“cradle-to-grave”).

This responsibility extends beyond managing the hazardous waste. It also includes its transportation to an appropriately licensed offsite storage, treatment, or hazardous waste disposal facility.

Don’t risk it. Seek professional guidance.

AllSource LightBulb Disposal Services 

At AllSource Environmental, we are committed to recycling and extracting hazardous (and non-hazardous) materials for the safety and betterment of our environment. We recycle components such as mercury, glass, and metal, which can be reused across various sectors. Our recycling services not only conserve resources but also substantially reduce the environmental impact linked with the production of new items. You can learn more about our light bulb disposal and recycling services here

If you have fluorescent bulbs, HID bulbs, incandescent bulbs, or LEDs, we can help you with your recycling needs! Contact us today for a free consultation