EPA, GSA Settlement Sheds Light on Need to Recycle Fluorescent Bulbs
Most of us don’t think twice about the fluorescent lights over our
heads at work, but the issue of how the bulbs are thrown out and how
they can be recycled took center stage in the recent resolution of an
EPA complaint against the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA).
Last year, EPA alleged that GSA violated federal hazardous waste rules
at its building on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands by disposing
of fluorescent light bulbs as regular garbage. While fluorescent bulbs
may seem harmless, they contain mercury and can be harmful to people
and the environment if improperly discarded.
“Fluorescent lights are super efficient -- up to 80% more than
incandescent bulbs -- which is great for the environment, but they do
have to be handled properly once they burn out,” said EPA Regional
Administrator, Alan J. Steinberg. “Most people don’t realize that every
time they toss a fluorescent bulb into the regular trash, they are
releasing mercury into the environment. Though these bulbs only contain
a very small amount of mercury, it can add up fast. That’s why I am so
pleased that GSA has agreed to make sure that fluorescent bulbs from
buildings that it owns and operates in the VI and throughout their
Caribbean and Northeast region are recycled."
GSA is a federal procurement and property management agency created
to improve government efficiency and help federal agencies better serve
the public. In the settlement, GSA agreed to complete arrangements
within one year to recycle the various kinds of mercury- and other
toxic metal-containing bulbs used in all of the more than 50 buildings,
including buildings that house EPA offices, GSA manages for federal
government agencies in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, northern New
Jersey, and New York. Currently available recycling systems can capture
up to 99 percent of the mercury in these bulbs and the mercury can be
reused in new bulbs. GSA will also pay a $23,000 penalty for the
Other types of light bulbs, including high-intensity discharge
(HID), neon, mercury-vapor, high-pressure sodium, compact fluorescent,
and metal halide lamps, can also contain mercury, lead, and cadmium.
EPA regulations require that non-green tip spent mercury-containing
bulbs from business, industry, and government be handled as hazardous
waste or under the simpler universal waste rules to prevent the release
of mercury and other toxins into the environment.
While EPA recommends that even green tip spent bulbs be recycled
because they do contain less but some mercury, some states have
stricter requirements and may require that even green tip spent bulbs
be handled as a hazardous waste.
For more information about the federal rules for the proper disposal of mercury and other toxic metal-containing bulbs visit: www.epa.gov.