When faced with disposing more than 1,000 fluorescent light bulbs a year properly, the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) in Redmond, WA has a new tool that helps to protect the environment while also reducing costs. Earlier this summer, the district purchased the “Bulb Eater,” a tool from Air Cycle Corporation to dispose of burned out fluorescent tubes. Within several seconds, fluorescent tube lights are sucked into the Bulb Eater’s 55-gallon drum and crushed, preventing mercury from escaping into the air while saving the school district the higher cost to send the bulb out for recycling.
The Bulb Eater processes (crushes) the spent fluorescent lamps into small fragments while capturing the mercury vapor and dust particulate in the tube. The contaminated air goes through a three-stage filtering process that captures the mercury vapor but also neutralizes it by converting the vapor to mercuric sulfide, which is non-hazardous. The crushed lamps stay in the sealed drum: once a drum is full, it is returned to Air Cycle for final disposal.
According to the district, “the product not only helps LWSD to protect the air quality in our schools from the possibility of mercury release from a broken fluorescent bulb, it also helps save the district money.” Before the Bulb Eater, the district spent about $2,500 a year to recycle fluorescent bulbs, as required by King County. Now the district says it will pay between $400 and $800 annually to replace full drums. The cost of each drum replacement is $400 and each drum can hold up to 800 bulbs before replacement is needed. The district reported that the machine itself cost the district $3,500 so the product will pay for itself in less than three years.