Northern Virginia Regional Commission

3040 Williams Drive, Suite 200
Fairfax, VA 22031
Monday to Friday: 8:30AM - 5:00PM

Main Telephone: 703-642-0700

Fluorescent Light Bulbs

 

Fluorescent Light Bulb Facts

  • Lamps, bulbs, ballasts, and tube portions of electric lighting devices can contain mercury.

  • Mercury is a toxic element that can be very harmful to human health and the environment if not managed properly. If a bulb breaks and mercury vapor is inhaled, or its contents seep into the carpet or other textiles, serious short and long-term health effects can take place.

  • Any bulb with the Hg (mercury) symbol should not be disposed of in the trash. 

  • These bulbs containing mercury should be reclaimed or recycled through an appropriate facility. 

  • The image box above shows typical fluorescent and HID bulbs that contain mercury and the names often used for them. ​​

Fluorescent tubes
This includes 4-footers, 8-footers, T-12s, and T-8s

Why use fluorescent bulbs?

  • Fluorescent bulbs save money

  • Fluorescent bulbs last 5-10 times longer than regular (incandescent) light bulbs

  • When handled properly, fluorescent bulbs are good for the environment because they are energy efficient--75% more efficient than regular light bulbs

 

Fluorescent Bulb Management Strategy

Bulbs and ballasts that require management

  • Any bulb with the HG symbol should not be disposed of in the trash

  • These bulbs contain mercury and should be reclaimed or recycled through an appropriate facility

  • The image box above shows typical fluorescent and HID bulbs that contain mercury and the names often used for them

 

How to Create a Fluorescent Bulb Management Strategy

  1. Estimate how many bulbs you generate from your building site(s) based on the estimated square footage of your building

    • The industry average for bulbs per square feet is one bulb per every three square feet and the projected life of the standard fluorescent bulb is twenty thousand burn hours or just over two years--Source: OSRAM Sylvania

  2. Learn how to properly store and handle light bulbs

  3. Explore your light bulb disposal options

  4. Research private recycling and disposal services to get estimates for cost of recovery

  5. Select a contractor and ensure proper recycling*

  6. Educate your maintenance staff about how to implement the management strategy. Inform them of the importance of recovering all light bulbs that have the HG symbol

  7. Coordinate lamp storage, shipping or crushing logistics with appropriate staff (building engineer, maintenance workers, custodial staff, etc)

  8. Kick-off the management program with an informational meeting with participants to recruit their support

  9. Periodically review the program to evaluate its effectiveness and to make improvements.

 

 

Take the Challenge!

Consider participating in the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Office of Pollution Prevention Fluorescent Lamp Recycling Challenge.*


*External link. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission does not author third party sites and their reference is for educational purposes only.

Safe Storage and Handling of Lamps

From the Know Toxics Universal
Waste & Used Electronics Training Manual

Information on safe storage and handling of lamps and bulbs

 

Light Bulb Disposal Options

What are my options for fluorescent light bulb disposal?

Box Programs
If your building generates only a small amount of used fluorescent bulbs, recycling can be facilitated through a "box program"

  • In a box program, a container is provided to the owner/manager who fills it with used fluorescent bulbs

  • When the container is full, it can be sent to any recycler via a prepaid ground mail shipment program

  • Labels and shipping papers are provided to the building owner/manager by the recycling company

Milk-Run Pick-ups
If your building generates large amounts of used fluorescent bulbs, recyclers can arrange “milk-run” pick-ups

  • Used lamps are picked up by a vendor on a scheduled basis and transported to a certified reclamation/recycling facility.

  • If your building generates very large amounts of used fluorescent bulbs, these can be picked up in trailer loads as needed

 

Find private companies that provide these services

What about bulb crushing?

  • Crushing fluorescent bulbs creates mercury vapor that is difficult to contain

  • Keeping light bulbs intact until they reach a qualified recycler is the surest method to prevent mercury exposure

  • Crushing fluorescent light bulbs on-site in Virginia is permissible under state regulations

  • There are a number of private companies that produce and maintain drum-top bulb crushing equipment

  • For more information on the regulations that apply to on-site bulb crushing, consult the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality website

Light Bulb Disposal Costs

How much will it cost to dispose of my fluorescent bulbs?

  • Recycling costs vary, depending on the type of light bulb, the number of bulbs, and whether or not transportation is included

  • It is best to seek out at least three quotes

  • The following price ranges are typical:

Tubes

HIDs

Compact Fluorescent Lights

PCB ballasts

Non-PCB ballasts

$0.04 - 0.12 per linear foot

$1.50 - 2.00

$0.05 - 2.00

$0.32 - 0.90 per pound

$0.10 - 0.55 per pound

Storage of Bulbs

How do I manage and store used lamps while waiting for disposal?

From the Know Toxics Universal
Waste & Used Electronics Training Manual

This and other information on safe storage and handling of lamps can be seen in the 

Know Toxics Universal Waste & Used Electronics Training Manual, pages 11-12.

A handler of universal waste lamps must manage lamps in a way that prevents releases to the

environment. Universal waste lamps must be kept in containers or packages that are structurally

sound, adequate to prevent breakage, and compatible with the contents. Containers must remain

closed and must be properly labeled.

 

  • Used bulbs can be stored for up to one year at the location in which they were used

  • Save money and prevent breakage by storing and packing lamps safely

  • Have those persons responsible for managing your fluorescent bulbs adhere to the following general guidelines:

    • Put used bulbs in original cartons or those provided by a recycler with no packing material included inside

    • Do not tape bulbs together

    • Store used bulb cartons in a dry place, avoid stacking cartons.

    • If stacking is unavoidable, place cartons neatly on pallets and shrink-wrap to prevent cartons from falling

    • Avoid breaking lamps

    • If a lamp breaks, follow the instructions under What do I do if a light bulb breaks?

    • Label the boxes with the date they were stored

    • Consider different disposal options

    • Call your disposal contractor

 

Actions You Can Take to Prevent Broken Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

  • Fluorescent bulbs are made of glass and can break if dropped or roughly handled

  • To avoid breaking a bulb, follow these general practices:

    • Always switch off and allow a working CFL bulb to cool before handling

    • Always handle CFL bulbs carefully to avoid breakage

    • If possible, screw/unscrew the CFL by holding the plastic or ceramic base, not the glass tubing

    • Gently screw in the CFL until snug. Do not over-tighten

    • Never forcefully twist the glass tubing

    • Consider not using CFLs in lamps that can be easily knocked over, in unprotected light fixtures, or in lamps that are incompatible with the spiral or folded shape of many CFLs

    • Do not use CFL bulbs in locations where they can easily be broken, such as play spaces

    • Use CFL bulbs that have a glass or plastic cover over the spiral or folded glass tube, if available. These types of bulbs look more like incandescent bulbs and may be more durable if dropped

    • Consider using a drop cloth (e.g., plastic sheet or beach towel) when changing a fluorescent light bulb in case a breakage should occur

    • The drop cloth will help prevent mercury contamination of nearby surfaces and can be bundled with the bulb debris for disposal

    • What do I do if a light bulb breaks?

 

Source:  EnergyStar, USEPA*

 

Lamp Crushing for Size Reduction

This and other information on lamp crushing for size reduction can be seen in the Know Toxics Universal Waste & Used Electronics Training Manual, pages 14-16.

As of August, 2013, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) allows for the use of lamp crushing devices that meet specific standards* under the universal waste program. However, these regulations are currently under review and may change in the near future. Since crushing lamps greatly increases the risk of mercury exposure, it is subject to substantial pollution control laws in addition to universal waste rules.

Keeping bulbs intact until they reach a qualified recycler is the surest method to prevent mercury exposure. Contact disposal contractors to discuss these options.


*External link. The Northern Virginia Regional Commission does not author third party sites and their reference is for educational purposes only.

 

Resources and Regulations

DEQ Regulations

More Resources

 

Broken Light Bulbs

 

What do I do if a light bulb breaks?

If a fluorescent light bulb breaks, some advice from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA):


Before Cleanup

  • Have people and pets leave the room, and avoid the breakage area on the way out

  • Open a window or door to the outdoors and leave the room for 5-10 minutes

  • Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one

  • Collect materials you will need to clean up the broken bulb:

    • Stiff paper or cardboard

    • Sticky tape (e.g., duct tape)

    • Damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces)

    • Glass jar with a metal lid (such as a canning jar) or a sealable plastic bag(s)

 

Cleanup Steps for Hard Surfaces

  • Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid

  • If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag

  • NOTE: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup

  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder

  • Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag

  • Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes

  • Place the towels in the glass jar or plastic bag

  • Vacuuming of hard surfaces during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken

  • NOTE: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor, although available information on this problem is limited

  • If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind:

    • Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;

    • Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available; and

    • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag

  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly

    • Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your area

    • Some states and communities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials

  • Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours

 

Cleanup Steps for Carpeting or Rugs

  • Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place debris and paper/cardboard in a glass jar with a metal lid

  • If a glass jar is not available, use a sealable plastic bag

  • NOTE: Since a plastic bag will not prevent the mercury vapor from escaping, remove the plastic bag(s) from the home after cleanup

  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder

  • Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag

  • Vacuuming of carpeting or rugs during cleanup is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken

  • NOTE: It is possible that vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor, although available information on this problem is limited

  • If vacuuming is needed to ensure removal of all broken glass, keep the following tips in mind:

    • Keep a window or door to the outdoors open;

    • Vacuum the area where the bulb was broken using the vacuum hose, if available, and

    • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and seal the bag/vacuum debris, and any materials used to clean the vacuum, in a plastic bag

  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly

    • Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your area

    • Some states and communities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing bulb debris and cleanup materials

  • Continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off, as practical, for several hours

 

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rugs

  • Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming

  • The next several times you vacuum the rug or carpet, shut off the H&AC system if you have one, close the doors to other rooms, and open a window or door to the outside before vacuuming

  • Change the vacuum bag after each use in this area

  • After vacuuming is completed, keep the H&AC system shut off and the window or door to the outside open, as practical, for several hours

 

Actions You Can Take to Prevent Broken Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

  • Fluorescent bulbs are made of glass and can break if dropped or roughly handled

  • To avoid breaking a bulb, follow these general practices:

    • Always switch off and allow a working CFL bulb to cool before handling

    • Always handle CFL bulbs carefully to avoid breakage

    • If possible, screw/unscrew the CFL by holding the plastic or ceramic base, not the glass tubing

    • Gently screw in the CFL until snug. Do not over-tighten

    • Never forcefully twist the glass tubing

    • Consider not using CFLs in lamps that can be easily knocked over, in unprotected light fixtures, or in lamps that are incompatible with the spiral or folded shape of many CFLs

    • Do not use CFL bulbs in locations where they can easily be broken, such as play spaces

    • Use CFL bulbs that have a glass or plastic cover over the spiral or folded glass tube, if available. These types of bulbs look more like incandescent bulbs and may be more durable if dropped

    • Consider using a drop cloth (e.g., plastic sheet or beach towel) when changing a fluorescent light bulb in case a breakage should occur

    • The drop cloth will help prevent mercury contamination of nearby surfaces and can be bundled with the bulb debris for disposal

Source:  EnergyStar, USEPA*

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