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.)
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.
- 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.
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.
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)