By Tom Szaky
Categorized by their regulation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a wide variety of items that require special handling fall under household hazardous waste (HHW). Commonly generated by consumers in small quantities, HHW includes batteries, fluorescent bulbs, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and items considered ignitable, reactive, corrosive or toxic.
HHW is regulated on the state and local level due to their federal exclusion under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and state and community programs collect it for many important benefits, including reducing risks to health and the environment that could result from improper storage or disposal through traditional municipal solid waste (MSW).
These items can contaminate the air or groundwater, react or explode in waste compactors, or injure workers when discarded with other trash. Thus, HHW management and storage facilities that accumulate materials for recycling in larger quantities are challenged with minimizing liability, controlling costs, and designing operations that are both efficient and ensure workplace safety.
At TerraCycle, we specialize in the recycling of traditionally non-recyclable items and helping businesses reduce waste. With the creation of our Regulated Waste division a few years ago, we’ve been able to help facilities across America improve results, save money, and protect the environment while providing EPA, OSHA, and ACGIH compliance.
Learn more in this case study highlighting the use of our Bulb Eater® by the Big Lakes Regional Household Hazardous Waste Program in Riley County, KS.
To protect groundwater in the state of Kansas, Riley County was issued the program’s first Household Hazardous Waste permit in 1990. That year, they hosted their first one-day collection event and opened a permanent collection facility. Through expansion over the following years, it would become known as the Big Lakes Regional Household Hazardous Waste Program.
One particularly problematic category received by the HHW facility is fluorescent lamps. Fluorescent lamps contain mercury, so it’s illegal in many states to dispose of them in solid waste landfills or through other conventional methods. Kansas highly recommends recycling and requires it at many facilities.
Extra care must be taken in handling to avoid incidental breakage and the release of harmful mercury vapors. Lightweight, made of glass, and requiring a large amount of storage space on-site as well as in transport to the recycling facility, each lamp must be packaged in boxes, marked, palletized and shrink-wrapped prior to shipping in order to be properly recycled.
In a 2015 HHW statewide report published by the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment, fluorescent lamps represented 12,295 pounds or 7.6% of the amount of waste handled by the state’s HHW collection program.
HHW managers are required to do an annual hazardous waste handling training and a refresher course. During one of these training sessions, Big Lakes’ then-new HHW manager, Steve Oliver, learned about the Bulb Eater.
The Bulb Eater technology crushes fluorescent lamps quickly and in a manner that eliminates dust and mercury vapor emissions from spent lamps, reducing handling and labor by up to 20 hours per 1,000 lamps. The lamp residue requires less storage space at a facility and is easier and safer to transport, crushed directly into a standard 55-gallon drum.
Oliver knew a Bulb Eater would fit their needs, but would have to apply for a grant first. In order to receive one, Big Lakes officials prepared an audit to capture the potential savings from the use of the Bulb Eater technology, allowing a comprehensive time and cost analysis in support of the grant application; the facility had accumulated over a nearly 12-month period approximately 9,700 lamps of all shapes and sizes.
Upon receipt of the grant, Riley County personnel purchased the Bulb Eater 3L model, which allowed them to process straight lamps of any diameter or length, circular and u-bends, and compact fluorescent lamps.
It took Big Lakes HHW personnel a total of 14.5 hours over the course of four days to complete the task of crushing 9,268 spent lamps, the one-year backlog. The completed project generated nine full drums and one partial drum.
Factoring the labor required to package, label, palletize the lamps to prepare them for shipment, and the recycling cost savings of transporting intact lamps versus crushed lamps, county officials estimated savings to be $4,265.
The HHW program was supported in part by the use of the Bulb Eater, which aided in the identification of opportunities for other items. For example, the Big Lakes program also received High-Intensity Discharge lamps, which contain a bead of liquid mercury that would contaminate crushed lamps processed in the Bulb Eater, so they cannot be crushed together.
However, Big Lakes found these could be managed separately and picked up at collection events or from households and businesses by HHW program personnel at the same time as the crushed lamps, realizing additional savings which are also reflected in the savings noted above.
The number of facilities in the Big Lakes Regional Household Hazardous Waste Program have since grown to 45, with 42 satellite locations throughout the state. HHW disposal options are now available for 93 Kansas counties and over 95% of the state’s population, with community access ranging from a permanent year-round collection facility to annual mobile collection events.
Importantly, the county charged a recycling fee to bring Universal Waste to their facility and have been able to reduce this user fee by 50% from using the Bulb Eater. The county plans to use the Bulb Eater at all future recycling events, which will enable them to eliminate the need for boxing and storing intact lamps.
Szaky is Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, a global leader in the collection and repurposing of complex waste streams. TerraCycle operates in 21 countries, working with some of the world’s largest brands, retailers, and manufacturers to create national platforms to recycle products and packaging that currently go to landfill or incineration. TerraCycle’s Regulated Waste division manages the collection and recycling of fluorescent lamps, bulbs, batteries, scrap electronics, organic waste, medical waste, and other materials. The division was formed in November 2017, after TerraCycle’s acquisition of Air Cycle Corporation, which brokered recycling services for fluorescent bulbs and batteries.
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