This article was originally published in the November/December 1994 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online November/December 1994



What to Do when the Lights Go Out

by Emily Polsby


Compact fluorescent lamps, on a smaller scale than their long-tube counterparts, contain mercury, and some have small amounts of radioactive isotope as well. Although most experts agree that the net amount of mercury released by power plants over the lifetime of eight energy-hogging incandescents is likely to be much greater than that of the one CFL that replaces them (see Table 1), that doesn't negate the fact that mercury-containing lamps don't belong in solid waste landfills or incinerators (see Hidden Cost of Relamping, HE May/June '92).

The federal government recognizes that used fluorescents need to be redirected from the regular solid waste stream. A handful of states (most notably Minnesota, California, Wisconsin, and Florida) have policies that supersede the federal regulations. In those states especially, a viable reclamation industry for full-size fluorescents exists, and many firms process CFLs too (see Where to Take Compact Fluorescent Lamps).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering options for making fluorescent ballasts and lamps easier to recycle. By removing some of the barriers associated with handling fluorescent bulbs as hazardous waste, EPA hopes to facilitate the correct processing of lamps and ballasts, especially since many of EPA's Green Lights participants will find themselves generators of hazardous waste as they carry out lighting retrofits.

Small generators, including households, are technically exempt from regulation under federal (and most state) rules, but that may be changing. EPA and the National Electrical Manufacturers Association are talking about who should bear the economic burden of recycling lighting products. Close attention is being paid to European programs that treat CFLs as household hazardous waste and collect them aggressively (see How Europeans Manage Mercury).



(kg. per 30,000 hours of operation, unless noted otherwise)


Compact Excess Due to Use Pollutant Fluorescent Incandescent of Incandescent Sulfur dioxide (gm) 370.1 1,088.6 718.5 Nitrogen oxide 2.0 5.94 3.94 Carbon dioxide 657.3 1,933.6 1,276.3 Solid wastes 145.5 427.7 282.2 Mercury (gm) 0.059 0.114 0.06 Arsenic (gm) 2.72 7.98 5.26 Lead (gm) 6.73 19.79 13.06 Radioactive Gases (microcuries, uCi) 533 1,570 1,033 Radwaste (Ci) 0.21 0.61 0.4 Note Solid wastes include ashes, scrubber sludge, low-level radioactive wastes, and so forth. Source: Compact Fluorescents, Radioisotopes and Solid Waste, by Warren C. Liebold and Lindsay Audin, Proceedings of the 1992 ACEEE Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings, ACEEE, 1001 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 801, Washington, DC 20036.



Because solid waste is usually incinerated in Europe rather than land--filled (as most waste is here), European governments have been confronting the problem of mercury from discarded lamps for some time. Germany, Austria, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland have all declared mercury-containing lamps hazardous waste, and most of these countries already have programs in place to deal with the problem.

With eight years of experience, Germany has the largest lamp collection infrastructure in the world. There are about 220 locations where consumers can deposit old lamps, which are then transported to one of the country's 20 lamp mercury recovery plants. In 1994, 70%-80% of all used German lamps were expected to be taken to recovery plants, representing about 50-60 million lamps.

Sweden's Environmental Protection Agency (Natursvårdsverket), is discussing a cradle-to-grave policy that places the economic liability for mercury management on lamp manufacturers. The agency will intervene if they conclude that the manufacturers have not made sufficient progress towards reducing the amount of mercury in lamps. One manufacturer, Lumalampan AB, already voluntarily collects discarded lamps from its customers and pays for mercury recovery. Lumalampan uses the recovered materials to manufacture new lamps. In addition, a company called Kvicksilveråtervinning AB (Mercury Recycling, Inc.) claims to be recovering 14% of the country's domestic fluorescent lamp waste.

After just two years, a program in the Netherlands has already far exceeded a 50% lamp collection rate through a new trash separation program for household hazardous waste.

The collection rate in Austria is over 50% as well (approximately 2.5 million lamps annually), while Switzerland's is 60%-70% (representing about 5 million lamps per year). Austria has a system where customers pay two deposits of 15 ATS (about $1.25)--one refundable and one not--when they buy their lamps. This fund then subsidizes the lamp recycling program. Switzerland, which already has a deposit on batteries, is considering a similar system.

Excerpted from the International Association of Energy-Efficient Lighting (IAEEL) Newsletter, issue #5, volume 2, with permission. You can contact IAEEL, care of Nutek, DOEE, S-11786 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: 46-8-681-9571; Fax: 46-8-681-9585.



These facilities reclaim the mercury, glass, and aluminum components, except as noted.

Advanced Environmental Recycling Corporation
2591 Mitchell Avenue
Allentown, PA 18103
(800)544-2372 or (215)797-7608

Mercury Technologies
International LP
Hayward, CA
(800)628-3675 or (510)429-1129

Mercury Technologies of Minnesota
Pine City, MN
(800)864-3821 or (612)629-7888


Lighting Resources, Incorporated
1949 Sugarland Drive, #211
Sheridan, WY 82801

Phoenix, AZ (602)276-4278
Greenwood, IN (317)888-3889
Ontario, CA (909)923-7252


Mercury Recovery Systems
2021 South Myrtle
Monrovia, CA 91016
(800)834-8598 or (818)301-1372

Hayward, CA (800)884-8982
San Diego, CA (619)695-8774


2010 East Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55413
(800)831-2852 or (612)378-9571

Tallahassee, FL (800)831-2852


Superior Lamp Recycling, Incorporated
1275 Mineral Springs Drive
Port Washington, WI 53074


USA Lights
2007 County Road C-2
Roseville, MN 55113


NSSI Recovery Services Incorporated
574 Etheridge Street
Houston, TX 77087

Note: recovers only mercury





Related Articles

Bright Prospects for Lighting Retrofits (Hasterok)
Energy-Efficient Lighting for the Home (Byrne)
Fixing the Fixtures (Siminovitch and Mills)
How to Keep 'Em Down Home in the Socket (Manclark)
Lighting Makeovers: The Best is Not Always the Brightest (Conway)
Putting Energy-Efficient Lighting in Its Place (Polsby)
Remodeling Bathrooms: Let the Energy Savings Flow (Johnston)
Remodeling Kitchens: A Smorgasbord of Energy Savings (Sullivan)
Steps to Successful Lighting Programs (Fernstrom)
Training Guide for 'Total Comfort' Professionals
Understanding Power Quality (De Almeida)
Whatever Happened to the E-Lamp? (Atkinson)
Eliminating CFCs Without Regrets (Houghton)
Fireplaces: Studies in Contrasts (Hayden)

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