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Why Fluorescent Lamp Recycling Still Matters

Today's Facility Manager

What’s in it for me? That is a question many facility managers ask when it comes to fluorescent lamp recycling, and for good reason. A tough economy is forcing facility managers to trim budgets, raising the question of how to most efficiently dispose of spent lamps. 

Simply throwing the bulbs out is a tempting option. Under budgetary constraints, it can be difficult 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 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 Costs of Throwing Away Lamps

In most of the US, throwing away fluorescent lamps is a violation of state and federal environmental regulations. By throwing out lamps, and violating the regulations, companies risk incurring large fines. Government environmental officials regularly investigate reports of facility noncompliance and, if violations are found, citations may be issued for fines ranging from the tens to the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In August of 2009, the US EPA fined New York City $50,000 for violating environmental regulations, including improper disposal of mercury-containing lamps . The city was also required to launch a $300,000 recycling program.

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. All told, about 650 million mercury-containing lamps burn out each year, creating a major potential for mercury contamination if lamps are not recycled .

When a company fails to recycle its spent fluorescent lamps and receives a fine, it usually makes the news. The negative PR that results is not only detrimental to the image of the firm, but may also affect its bottom line, if customers believe that such a company cannot be trusted.

The Case for Lamp Recycling

For many firms, a fine or mercury-poisoning incident is a needed wake-up call that spurs improved waste-management practices. But it’s never good to pay a penalty or damage a reputation over something preventable. Recycling lamps mitigates the risk of fines and bad publicity, and dramatically reduces the risk of environmental contamination.

Recycling fluorescent bulbs can also support green marketing initiatives. In 2009, TerraChoice, an environmental marketing firm, reported that 91% of commercial or institutional purchasing budgets in North America were influenced to some degree by environmental-performance considerations . The same year, 82% of US consumers reported buying “green” products, according to Environmental Leader . Recycling fluorescent lamps can create opportunity to reach customers like these, who care about purchasing products and services produced in a safe and environmentally-friendly way.

Implementing a Lamp Recycling Program

Despite the many benefits of recycling fluorescent lamps, the prospect of implementing a facility-wide recycling program can seem complicated and time-consuming. Fortunately, recycling methods have been developed that streamline the lamp recycling process, such as those offered by Air Cycle Corporation.

Thousands of facility managers worldwide have implemented lamp recycling programs using Air Cycle’s innovative Bulb Eater® lamp crushing system and EasyPak™ prepaid recycling containers. Whether recycling lamps for the first time with Air Cycle or refining an existing plan, facility managers can follow a few easy steps to create a quality program for their facility.

Assess the Facility

Key data points for facility assessment include: facility square footage, fixture and lamp count, types of lamps in use, regulations governing the facility, relamping schedule, and rate of lamp burn out. Air Cycle has designed recycling programs that are size-specific, accommodate an array of lamp types, and are compliant in the varying legal contexts where fluorescent lamps need to be recycled.

Select a Recycling Method

Facilities of more than 150,000 sq. ft. require recycling methods capable of handling hundreds of spent bulbs per month. Air Cycle’s Bulb Eater employs an innovative approach to large facility recycling by completing the first step in the recycling process—crushing—before lamps leave the facility. Being crushed and stored on-site prior to recycling, the bulbs take up less space than intact lamps, reducing storage requirements by up to 80%. Because no boxing of lamps is needed, facility manages can also save up to 20 hours of labor per 1000 lamps.

For facilities of less than 150,000 sq. ft. Air Cycle offers EasyPak lamp and ballast recycling containers. With EasyPak, facilities managers simply fill the appropriate container as lamps or ballasts wear out, and mail it back when full using the included prepaid shipping label. For even simpler recycling, facility managers join Air Cycle’s Sustainable Program, where a replacement EasyPak container is automatically shipped for every container returned, saving time and minimizing paperwork.

Track Recycling Efforts

With Air Cycle, facility managers can track recycling efforts using online, printable Recycling Reports and Certificates of Recycling. Recycling documentation is not only helpful for internal review, but is also proof of compliance with recycling regulations and a useful tool for green marketing campaigns.

Conclusion

It is easy to see lamp recycling as one more obstacle to meeting facility budgetary goals, but the real obstacle to an efficiently-managed facility is throwing out fluorescent lamps. Especially in a tough economy, lamp recycling matters for minimizing facility financial and safety risks. It can even be an opportunity to capitalize on benefits like positive environmental publicity, and to enjoy the knowledge that a little more of our environment has been kept safe from the hazards of mercury.


Recycling Lamps with LampRecycling.com

LampRecycling.com offers cost-effective and convenient ways to recycle fluorescent lamps for any size facility. Click here to browse EasyPak™ containers or view large facility recycling solutions.