Beginning January 1, 2013, all Washington businesses and government agencies will be required to recycle their used mercury-containing lights.
1. What is the new law?
Starting January 1, 2013, all persons, residents, government, commercial, industrial, retail facilities and office buildings must recycle their end-of-life mercury-containing lights. Mercury-containing lights include straight fluorescent tubes, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), U-bend and circular fluorescent lamps and High Intensity Discharge Lamps (HIDs – these include mercury vapor, sodium vapor, and metal halide lamps). The law, RCW 70.275.080, makes it illegal to knowingly place mercury-containing lights in waste bins or landfills. Further, all mercury-containing lights must be placed in a recycling container specifically designed to prevent the release of mercury.
The full text can be found here.
2. How big is the problem?
The volume of improperly disposed of lamps is staggering - nationally, about 680 million lamps are discarded annually, most to solid waste disposal facilities, including landfills and solid waste incinerators. For Washington this represents over 15 million lamps per year. An informal poll of lamp recyclers estimates that the recycling rate for lamps is below 25% nationwide.
3. Who does the law affect?
All residents, businesses, and government agencies that use mercury-containing lights, including apartment buildings, commercial office buildings, and small businesses.
4. What are the benefits of recycling the lights over tossing them in the garbage or landfill?
Fluorescent lamps and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) both contain small amounts of mercury. The mercury inside a light does not pose a concern while the light is in use and unbroken. During disposal and waste handling, however, lamps are broken, releasing mercury vapor and potentially exposing waste handlers or others to inhalation of mercury vapor.
Virtually every component of a fluorescent lamp can be recycled, including metal end caps, lamp glass, and the mercury phosphor powder. When the lamps are recycled properly, they are crushed and the materials are separated under a continuous vacuum filtration process. The glass, aluminum and mercury-bearing phosphor powder is captured safely and recycled for use in other products. The mercury phosphor powder is sent to a mercury retort for recovery of the mercury and rare earth metals in the powder.
5. What should I do with lamps collected at my office or business?
The easiest way to recycle your spent lamps is through the EcoLights pre-paid box recycling program [http://www.ecolights.com/store.html]. For one price, EcoLights will ship you a specially designed box, protective inner bag, and all instructions; you fill the box with lamps, and return the box to EcoLights for recycling. EcoLights then e-mails a Certificate of Recycling to you, completing the process. This program offers you and your business a turn key solution to comply with the new law.
6. What are the consequences for not adhering to the law?
Currently, there are no fines or other legal consequences associated with non-compliance, but improper disposal of mercury bearing lights creates an environmental and safety risk for all of us.
The mercury content in fluorescent tubes ranges from 3.5 milligrams to 8 milligrams or more for older lamps. This mercury is released when the lamp is broken. During waste handling and disposal, many lamps break, releasing mercury vapor and potentially exposing waste handlers and others to inhalation of those vapors.
Mercury in the atmosphere is ultimately deposited back to the earth, rivers and lakes. The mercury is then available to enter the food chain and eventually accumulates in fish, which humans and other animals eat.
7. How does the law affect individuals?
Starting January 1, 2013, a producer-funded recycling program will be implemented for residents or anyone returning less than 15 light bulbs in a 90-day period. This includes single-family and multi-family households as well as small businesses or non-profits recycling less than 15 lights in the 90-day period. There will be no charge at drop off locations. Anyone generating more than 15 lamps will have to use either a pre-paid box program or bulk collection program.
8. Where can I find more information?
EcoLights [www.ecolights.com] is the only licensed “final destination” lamp recycler in Washington and the largest in the Pacific Northwest. Our services are designed to help customers comply with laws regarding the handling of hazardous materials, help them reduce their long-term legal liabilities, minimize the disposal of hazardous waste and help protect the environment that we all share. For more information about our services, visit [http://www.ecolights.com/residential.html]
Information from the Washington State Department of Ecology
Starting January 1, 2013, it will be illegal for businesses and residents to throw mercury-containing lights in the trash. EcoLights has the information on the law and what it means for you.
All fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) contain small amounts of mercury. Nationwide, only about 25% of the 680 million lights discarded each year are recycled. The remainder is disposed of in solid waste landfills and incinerators. In Washington this represents over 15 million lamps per year.