all fluorescent lamps require mercury to start and operate. Once the lamp is disposed of, however, that mercury can become a hazardous substance in the environment. This problem has resulted in more than a decade of federal and state regulation that can be confusing to owners, architects and lighting professionals alike.
Paul Walitsky, manager of environmental affairs for Philips Lighting North America, puts it simply: 'Mercury is an important environmental issue, so it should be a priority for all people who make lighting decisions.' But recent developments including California's changes to the state's lamp disposal law-and the increasingly litigious nature of business-make it an especially current topic, particularly for lighting designers.
Responsible for both specifying lamps and advising clients, lighting professionals stand to become a resource on this subject for building owners. As environmental consciousness becomes a larger part of facilities construction and management, owners may see lamp recycling as an extension of sustainable design practices.
Pamela Horner, environmental marketing manager for Osram Sylvania's General Lighting Division, sees other important reasons for lighting professionals to take notice: 'Designers are taking more responsibility for the life performance of the lighting system,' she says. 'And recycling is the responsible thing to do. In addition, if a designer can become knowledgeable about these issues, it can help that designer get his or her next project.'
Before 1990, owners disposed of spent lamps as ordinary garbage in the local municipal landfill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) test to determine how toxic materials, including mercury, would leach in a landfill. Many lamps failed this test, resulting in their classification as hazardous waste with associated regulatory burdens under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Owners, therefore, could only dispose of the lamps in a hazardous waste landfill, or recycle them using what was then a small, budding lamp recycling industry.
To encourage recycling, in January 2000, the EPA issued a ruling that added mercury-containing lamps to the federal list of 'universal wastes,' enabling these lamps to be covered under the Universal Waste Rule of 1995. Under this rule, universal wastes are hazardous wastes but with lighter regulatory requirements regarding storage, collection and transportation.
Owing to this update, owners now have the following options in states that have adopted federal rules:
• Manage spent lamps as hazardous waste
• Manage spent lamps as universal waste and recycle
• Use a lamp that is not characteristically hazardous and either recycle it or dispose of it as solid waste in a municipal landfill.
State regulations, however, can be stricter than federal regulations, and the stricter regulations always take precedence. Seven states, for example, have banned all mercury-containing lamps from their municipal landfills, requiring owners to either recycle or dispose of spent lamps as hazardous waste. These states are California, Connecticut, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont. Pennsylvania has eliminated the small-quantity exemption for lamps, requiring all mercury-containing lamps to be disposed of according to prevailing regulations. The regulatory landscape is likely to continue shifting, says Peter Bleasby, director of industry relations and standards for Osram Sylvania.
Mercury Use Declining
Many lamps today are no longer considered characteristically hazardous according to the EPA test. Not long after the introduction of TCLP, lamp manufacturers reduced the amount of mercury in their lamps and used other means to pass the TCLP test.
According to a 2000 National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) survey, lamp manufacturers reduced the total amount of mercury used in lamps from 24 tons in 440 million disposed lamps in 1990, to 17 tons in 620 million disposed lamps in 1999, a 29 percent decrease. NEMA projected that this trend would continue into 2004, forecasting a decrease to 13 tons of mercury contained in some 680 million disposed lamps. (Industry sources believe the forecast was off, that the amount of mercury is down to nine tons.)
Lamp manufacturers were actually ahead of the EPA's TCLP mandate. They began reducing mercury content in lamps in 1985, to respond to Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulations limiting the amount of mercury in the workplace. According to NEMA, between 1985 and 1999, the average amount of mercury in a 4-foot lamp decreased from 48.2 milligrams to 11.6 milligrams. (See figure 2, page 23)
'It's interesting that mercury use has declined while lamp life and efficacy have improved,' says Horner. She points out that it now takes the recycling of 50,000 4-foot fluorescent lamps, or 150,000 compact fluorescent lamps, to recover one pound of mercury. Today, she says, all lamp manufacturers use recycled mercury.
While manufacturers have continued to reduce the mercury content in their lamps, Horner believes that they are approaching the limit of what is practical. 'There is an intricate relationship between light output, life and mercury,' she says. 'You can go too low.'
The net effect of the lighting manufacturers enabling their lamps to be classified as non-hazardous waste under federal rules, however, is that many of these lamps still end up in landfills in many states, along with their much reduced but still existent mercury.
Major lamp manufacturers have united within NEMA's Lamp Section to promote recycling across the country. 'Everyone has a responsibility to be good environmental stewards,' says Walitsky. 'Despite the decreased amount of mercury in many fluorescent lamps, failing to recycle these lamps could potentially expose some mercury to the ecosystem.'
According to NEMA, about 2 percent of all disposed lamps in 1990 were recycled, less than 9 million lamps. By 1999, NEMA estimated that this had increased to 15 percent, or 93 million lamps. NEMA forecasted that 2004 would see 25 percent recycled, or 170 million lamps.
Paul Abernathy, executive director for the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers (ALMR), believes that owners do not have enough information about their liabilities, regulatory responsibilities and options. 'Nationally, the recycling rate is about 20 percent,' he says. 'Our industry has worked hard to inform lamp users of their recycling options. However, almost 80 percent of the mercury lamps are still disposed of into municipal garbage. Information about proper lamp management isn't getting to most people.'
The main problem is that lamp recycling is not in and of itself profitable; therefore, the generator of the waste must pay for it. Tony Amaro, vice president of business development for EPSI, a recycling firm, says that the cost of recycling a 4-foot fluorescent lamp ranges from $0.35 to $1.50, depending on total quantity to be recycled and the other services provided. Amaro estimates that recycling represents about 3 to 4 percent of the total cost of a lighting retrofit. Osram Sylvania's Bleasby puts it another way: the cost of recycling is only 1 percent of the total cost of ownership of a lamp, adding that costs are coming down as the lamp recycling industry grows.
Many will see enough value in recycling to overcome the cost barrier. Owners that dispose of spent lamps as universal waste (continued on page 26)
bound for recycling benefit by avoiding the regulatory hassles of treating the lamps as hazardous waste, and the uncertainty of putting them into a municipal landfill. In addition to keeping mercury out of the disposal stream and meeting regulations, owners who recycle can limit potential Superfund liability. The regulatory landscape at the state and local level is shifting. The most recent example of this is occurring in California, which had relied on the Total Threshold Limit Concentration (TTLC) test, a variant of the TCLP, until it ruled that no mercury-containing lamps from businesses can be allowed into the state's landfills after February 2004.
'The lesson is simply this, that just because it is legal today is no guarantee it will be so tomorrow,' says Amaro. 'If the rules change and become more stringent in your state, will the company be liable for a clean-up?'
Amaro says that if a facility puts out spent lamps, it is a potential generator of hazardous waste, and federal law states that the generator is responsible for it regardless of where it goes. If it ends up in the environment after its disposal in a landfill, the generator may face Superfund liability. 'The waste owner will say, 'The lamps we disposed of were non-hazardous,'' says Amaro. 'The EPA will say, 'Prove it.' The owner would have little or no documentation to support their plea of innocence. So a decision to recycle is also about risk avoidance.'
When lamps are recycled by a qualified recycling firm, the owner receives a 'Certificate of Recycling' that certifies that the lamps have been de-manufactured and that the resulting products have been returned to the economy for safe reuse. This certificate, along with shipping documents, demonstrates the chain of custody of the waste, virtually eliminating, says Amaro, the possibility of being cited for wrongdoing.
In January 2003, NEMA announced that the members of its lamp section-EYE Lighting, GE Lighting, Osram Sylvania, Panasonic Lighting, Philips Lighting, Ushio America, Venture Lighting and Westinghouse-had adopted a nationwide program to label fluorescent and HID lamps that contain mercury, as well as their packaging, with the international symbol for mercury (Hg), and the statement, 'Manage in accordance with disposal laws.' The package label refers the owner to NEMA's www.lamprecycle.org, which offers state-specific disposal information, the names of companies that provide lamp recycling services, and a number for more information.
A big boost to lamp recycling education also came from the EPA, which recently allocated $2 million to promote the effort, with an $815,000 grant going to ALMR in partnership with NEMA and the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA). These organizations have developed the Lamp Recycle Outreach Program, which produces a CD that provides information on local disposal regulations, educational materials, and stringency comparisons of states to the Universal Waste Rule. ALMR has also launched a website with relevant information: www.almr.org.
Craig DiLouie is principal of ZING Communications, a marketing communications and consulting firm specializing in the lighting and electrical industries. A former publisher of Architectural Lighting, he is the author of many books and articles on lighting and electrical engineering.