Fluorescent Bulbs Can’t Go In Trash

By ecoRI News staff

Fluorescent bulbs, although energy efficient, contain small amounts of mercury and therefore are hazardous and must be disposed of properly. Many businesses  and homeowners aren’t aware that it’s illegal to throw fluorescent bulbs out with the trash.

When broken, incinerated or buried in a landfill, fluorescent bulbs release mercury into the air, water and soil.

For those who have tried to do the right thing with these mercury-containing bulbs, it’s not always easy to dispose of them properly. Some stores take back fluorescent bulbs, but those programs are typically meant for individuals.

Northeast Recycle Group and Office Recycling Solutions offer mail-back and collection solutions to the fluorescent bulb problem. Mail-back refers to the option of buying a special box designed to hold fluorescent bulbs. Included in that cost is the cost of shipping the box full of spent bulbs back to the facility from which it was purchased for proper disposal.

Fluorescent bulbs also can be disposed of by making an appointment at a Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation free Eco-Depot collection.

A small amount of elemental mercury remains an essential component of fluorescent bulbs — less than 5 milligrams a bulb. While elemental mercury is a hazardous material, there is only a risk of exposure if the fluorescent light bulb breaks.

Virtually all components of a fluorescent bulb can be recycled — the metal end caps are sold as scrap, the glass tubing is remanufactured into new glass products, and the mercury and phosphor are recovered and reused for new light bulbs.

Once the light bulbs are collected, they are sent to recycling facilities across the country for processing. The light bulbs are mechanically crushed and sorted into their separate components. A vacuum system is usually used to ensure that toxic substances are not released into the air when the bulbs are crushed.

Crushing fluorescent bulbs is not allowed in Rhode Island, so businesses such as the Northeast Recycle Group ship their bulbs to out-of-state facilities.