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Recycling old fluorescent tubes

QuestionThe offices of my small business are lit with fluorescent lights. As I recently replaced a couple of tubes and put the old tubes in the garbage can, I wondered if they were recyclable. Can—and should—fluorescent tubes be recycled?

AnswerYou ask a good question, one that we should all ask ourselves every time we throw something away. 

The short answer is "Yes," we should recycle old fluorescent tubes. 

Fluorescent tubes actually contain a small amount of mercury, so I contacted the City of Spokane's Solid Waste System and spoke with Scott Windsor, Hazardous Waste Coordinator. He said that even though the small amount of mercury is enough to worry about, homeowners are exempt from recycling them here locally and can dispose of them with their normal waste pickup. Businesses in Spokane, on the other hand, are required to recycle their fluorescent tubes.

You'll want to check within your own community to learn what recycling requirements apply to you and your business.  

I personally believe we should all recycle our fluorescent tubes or convert to the new eco (environmental conservation organization) tubes that came to the market in 1995. They were created to be a low-mercury product and can be identified by green markings and/or green end caps.

While these lamps may not require recycling in your area, businesses and households should still contact a local city or county refuse department or the Environmental Protection Agency to see if there is a local hazardous waste disposal facility. Perhaps there's a hotline where you can learn where regular and low-mercury fluorescent lamps (and other hazardous waste) can be recycled to help our environment.

On a related note, pre-1980 magnetic ballasts found in fluorescent light fixtures normally used in commercial applications are likely to contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A capacitor within the ballast is sealed with a teaspoon of concentrated PCBs (a thick black fluid). If the ballast should get hot, it may emit smoke and rupture before failing, which may allow the fluid to leak out. This fluid is hazardous to both our health and our environment. These ballasts also require disposal as hazardous waste materials.

Many of these older light fixtures are sold through yard sales, classified ads, auctions, and used material supply houses. Before purchasing any light fixtures, carefully examine the ballast.  Ballasts manufactured after 1979 that do not contain PCBs are clearly labeled "Non-PCB." If you suspect that a used fixture contains PCBs, I highly recommend that you not purchase it.

Copyright © 2004, 2006, & 2007 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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C.R.S., Inc. · Spokane, Washington · USA

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