California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

Waste Prevention Information Exchange

Fluorescent Lamps and Tubes

Also see Batteries, Mercury, and Universal Waste in this directory.

Table of Contents

All Fluorescent Lamps and Tubes Should Be Recycled or Disposed as Hazardous Waste

How to Recycle or Safely Dispose Fluorescent Lamps and Tubes

Do Not Break Fluorescent Lamps or Tubes

Fluorescent Lamps, Tubes, and Universal Waste

Why Use Fluorescent Lamps and Tubes?

What to Look For When Buying Fluorescent Lamps and Tubes

How to Clean Up Broken Lamps and Tubes

How Businesses, Local Agencies, and Schools Can Help

CalRecycle Programs and Services

Fluorescent Lamp and Tube Poster and Sticker

Other Resources

All Fluorescent Lamps and Tubes Should Be Recycled or Disposed as Hazardous Waste

All fluorescent lamps and tubes are considered hazardous waste in California when they are discarded because they contain mercury. (Title 22, division 4.5, chapter 11, section 66261.50) This includes:

Fluorescent lamps and tubes:

  • Fluorescent tubes, including low mercury tubes.
  • Compact fluorescents, including low mercury lamps.

High Intensity Discharge (HID) Lamps:

  • Metal halide lamps, such as floodlights for  large indoor and outdoor areas and gymnasiums.
  • Sodium lamps, such as those sometimes used as security lighting and outdoor floodlights.
  • Mercury vapor lamps, such as those sometimes used for street lighting.

All fluorescent lamps and tubes must be recycled, or taken to a household hazardous waste disposal facility, a universal waste handler (e.g., storage facility or broker), or an authorized recycling facility. (Title 22, division 4.5, chapter 23, section 66273.8) (The law requiring that fluorescent lamps be recycled or taken to a household hazardous waste disposal facility, a universal waste handler, or an authorized recycling facility has been in effect since February 9, 2006.)

See a list of all wastes banned from the trash.

When mercury-containing lamps or tubes are placed in the trash and collected for disposal, the lamps or tubes are broken and mercury is released to the environment. Mercury vapors from broken lamps or tubes can be absorbed through the lungs into the bloodstream. People who are particularly close to the breakage are especially at risk. Mercury from broken lamps and tubes can also be washed by rain water into waterways.

According to a report entitled, Household Universal Waste Generation in California, August 2002, there were 15,555,556 fluorescent lamps sold in California in the year 2001. According to survey results published in the report, only 0.21% of these lamps were recycled.

How to Recycle or Safely Dispose Fluorescent Lamps and Tubes

Households and Small Business with Only Small Numbers of Spent Lamp or Tubes at a Time

Businesses

  • Businesses now manage mercury-containing lamps and tubes as universal wastes for recycling. The recent universal waste regulations eliminate the hazardous waste manifest requirements and increase allowable storage time to one year.
  • Businesses can use prepaid mailing containers from lamp recyclers or contact a universal waste handler (e.g., storage facility, broker) or an authorized recycling facility.
  • Contact the DTSC office near you.
  • See the Web site of your local governmental household hazardous waste agency for the latest information in your area.

Do Not Break Fluorescent Lamps or Tubes

Package Fluorescent lamps and tubes carefully when storing and transporting them. Do not tape tubes together. Store and transport fluorescent lamps and tubes in the original box or another protective container. Store them in an area away from rain so that if they break, the mercury from broken lamps or tubes will not be washed by rain water into waterways. (See How to Clean Up Broken Lamps or Tubes, below.)

Approximately 370 pounds of mercury were released in California in the year 2000 due to the breakage of electric lamps and tubes during storage and transportation1. It is estimated that nearly 75 million waste fluorescent lamps and tubes are generated annually in California. These lamps and tubes contain more than a half a ton of mercury. The mercury in urban storm water sediment results in part from improperly discarded fluorescent lamps and tubes.2

Note: Operating a fluorescent lamp/tube crusher in California would be considered hazardous waste treatment. Operating a fluorescent lamp crusher in California would require a "standardized permit" from the Department of Toxic Substances Control. Contact the DTSC office near you for more information on standardized treatment permits before you invest in a fluorescent lamp crusher.

Fluorescent Lamps, Tubes, and Universal Waste

Hazardous waste regulations designate a category of hazardous wastes called "Universal Waste." This category includes many items, fluorescent lamps, fluorescent tubes, batteries, cathode ray tubes, instruments that contain mercury, and others. Not all universal wastes are subject to the same regulations or disposal requirements. In general, universal waste may not be discarded in solid waste landfills.

Under California's Universal Waste Rule (PDF, 108 KB), households and conditionally exempt small quantity generators were allowed to dispose fluorescent lamps and tubes, batteries (not lead/acid batteries of the type used in autos), mercury thermostats, and electronic devices to the trash through February 8, 2006. Local trash companies or other agencies were allowed to ban these items from the trash any time before February 8, 2006. Large and small quantity handlers are required to ship their universal waste to either another handler, a universal waste transfer station, a recycling facility, or a disposal facility. Under the California's Universal Waste Rule (PDF, 108 KB), specified waste generators were permitted to send specified universal wastes to landfills, but this disposal allowance has expired.

On February 9, 2004, regulations took effect in California that classified all discarded fluorescent lamps and tubes as hazardous waste. This includes even low mercury lamps and tubes marketed as "TCLP passing" or "TTLC passing." Most businesses, institutions, and agencies are now prohibited from disposing of any type of fluorescent lamps and tubes in the nonhazardous solid waste stream. Hazardous waste fluorescent lamps and tubes can be managed under the simple requirements of the state's Universal Waste Rule, provided they are sent to an authorized recycling facility. Under a temporary disposal exemption, California households were allowed to discard their own fluorescent lamps and tubes as non-hazardous solid waste (ordinary trash) until February 9, 2006. A similar exemption allowed non-residential generators who produce very limited amounts of hazardous waste to discard up to 30 of their own lamps and tubes in the non-hazardous solid waste until the same date.

Now all fluorescent lamps and tubes must be recycled, or taken to a household hazardous waste disposal facility, a universal waste handler (e.g., storage facility or broker), or an authorized recycling facility. (Title 22, division 4.5, chapter 23, section 66273.8)

Contact the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) office near you for more information. Also see the DTSC Web page on universal waste.

Why Use Fluorescent Lamps and Tubes?

Fluorescent lamps and tubes are an energy-efficient alternative to incandescent lamps for the following reasons:

  • Three to four times more energy-efficient.
  • Cost less to use.
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution from energy production.
  • Last up to ten times longer than standard incandescent light bulbs.

What to Look For When Buying Fluorescent Lamps and Tubes

  • Energy efficiency, lumens per watt.
  • Long lamp life - minimum of 20,000 hours rated life. (Extend lamp life and conserve energy by turning lights off when not in use.)
  • Lowest mercury content. (Low-mercury lamps and tubes need to be recycled or safely disposed too!)
  • Manufacturers or vendors that promote or assist with recycling.

How to Clean Up Broken Lamps and Tubes

Households or Small Amounts of Breakage

In a household or for small quantity breakages, do not use a standard vacuum cleaner! Do not use ordinary residential and commercial floor vacuums, floor vacuums that trap dirt with water, or wet/dry shop vacuums. (For vacuum cleaning, only vacuums designed specifically for hazardous waste may be used.)

Instead of vacuuming, wear latex gloves and carefully clean up the fragments. Wipe the area with a damp disposable paper towel to remove all glass fragments and associated mercury.

Keep all people and pets away from area so that mercury-containing pieces and powder are not tracked into other areas.

Keep the area well ventilated to disperse any vapor than may escape.

After clean up is complete, place all fragments along with cleaning materials into a sealable plastic bag. Wash your hands. Recycle along with intact lamps.

Large Amounts of Breakage

For accidental breakage of larger numbers of lamps, such as a case or pallet, do not use a standard vacuum cleaner! Do not use ordinary residential and commercial floor vacuums, floor vacuums that trap dirt with water, or wet/dry shop vacuums. (For vacuum cleaning, only vacuums designed specifically for hazardous waste may be used.) Ventilate area where breakage occurred. Separate any unbroken lamps and cleanup breakage with a specialized mercury vacuum cleaner or other suitable means that avoids dust and mercury vapor generation. Place materials in closed containers. Recycle waste along with intact lamps.

How Businesses, Local Agencies, and Schools Can Help

Help get the word out. Download, reproduce, and distribute the ‘Keep Out of the Trash” stickers and posters from CalRecycle.

CalRecycle Programs and Services

CalRecycle Posters and Stickers

    Fluorescent lamp and tube poster.

    Poster
    10 X 14.5 Inches Fluorescent Lamp and Tube Poster

    Details and Downloads

    Text—Keep Fluorescent lamps out of the trash. Contact your local household hazardous waste agency. Broken lamps can release mercury to the air and water. This includes fluorescent tubes, compact fluorescent lamps, metal halide lamps, and sodium vapor lams. For more information see www.zerowaste.ca.gov, or www.dtsc.ca.gov.


     

    Fluorescent lamp and tube sticker for trash bins.

    Sticker
    5 X 5 Inches Fluorescent Lamp and Tube Sticker

    Note—This sticker is suitable for use on indoor and outdoor waste receptacles.

    Details and Downloads

    Text—Fluorescent. Keep out of the trash. Contact your local household hazardous waste agency. Broken lamps can release mercury to the air and water. This includes fluorescent tubes, compact fluorescent lamps, metal halide lamps, and sodium vapor lams. For more information see www.zerowaste.ca.gov, or www.dtsc.ca.gov.

    Also see Battery Posters and Stickers.

Other Resources

Documents

Web Sites

  • Fluorescent Lamp Recycling—From LampRecycle.org, a project of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) targeted primarily toward commercial and governmental interests. However, the brochure, entitled Fluorescent Lamps and the Environment contains general background information on fluorescent lamps, such as why there is mercury in fluorescent lamps.
  • Managing Waste Mercury Lamps—This website outlines the proper management, recycling, and transporting of waste mercury lamps including fluorescent tubes and many types of street lights.
Last updated: September 19, 2012
Waste Prevention Information Exchange, www.calrecycle.ca.gov/ReduceWaste/InfoExchange/
Comments: WPInfoEx@calrecycle.ca.gov