Why We STILL Need to Recycle Fluorescent Lamps – Article by Dionne Petitpas
So why do I need to recycle my lamps? Do we really have to? Is there an easy way to do it?
These are questions many Board members and HOAs ask when thinking about fluorescent lamp recycling, and it’s understandable. A tough economy is forcing many of us to trim budgets, raising the question of how to most efficiently dispose of spent lamps. Simply throwing the bulbs out is a very tempting option, is anyone really going to know? It can be difficult to get our communities to see the point of recycling—trashing lamps costs nothing upfront and requires virtually no labor, giving it a short-term advantage over lamp recycling. But what we need to be clear on is that throwing away lamps carries other financial, environmental, and public relations risks, which often outweigh the comparatively small fee for recycling over the long run.
THE REAL COSTS OF THROWING AWAY LAMPS… In most of the US, and certainly in California, throwing away fluorescent lamps is a violation of state environmental regulations. By throwing out lamps, and violating the regulations, HOAs run the risk of incurring large fines, including Superfund Liability. Government environmental officials regularly investigate reports of noncompliance and, if violations are found, citations may be issued for fines ranging from the tens to the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
THE TOXIC DANGERS… Regulations requiring fluorescent lamp recycling are enforced for a reason. The mercury contained in every fluorescent lamp is potently toxic: just one gram is capable of polluting a 20-acre lake for an entire year. Once polluted, a mercury-tainted environment can contaminate wildlife, including human food sources such as fish, and those who eat fish. All told, about 650 million mercury-containing lamps burn out each year, creating a major potential for mercury contamination if lamps are not recycled.
THE CASE FOR LAMP RECYCLING… For many communities a fine or mercury-poisoning incident is a needed wake-up call that spurs improved waste-management practices. But why pay a penalty or damage a reputation over something preventable? Recycling lamps mitigates the risk of fines and even bad publicity, and dramatically reduces the risk of environmental contamination.
So How Do You Implement a Recycling Program in your HOA? Despite the many benefits of recycling fluorescent lamps, the prospect of implementing a community-wide recycling program can seem complicated and time-consuming. But it’s really not.
First, review your lighting maintenance agreement and see if recycling fluorescent lamps is covered. Fluorescent lamps/HID lamps should be recycled and removed from the property and records/recycling certificates should be kept on file for a period of 3 years, according to state regulations. Some communities have chosen to take recycling a step further by offering a community-wide program where residents can bring the spent lamps used in their homes and place them in a pre-paid recycling box in a secure location, such as a clubhouse. Once full, the box is sealed, the 800-number called and it is picked up by the carrier at the door. This type of program works well for communities with on-site maintenance as the maintenance personnel can confidently fill the pre-paid boxes and ship them to the recycler when full.
Remember – a broken fluorescent lamp is a bigger deal than spilt milk! It requires special clean-up to prevent mercury from being dispersed through the air. Most importantly, do not vacuum it up!
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Find out where to recycle your fluorescent lamps – Visit Business Hazardous Waste Referrals,