BONUS Professional Development: Focus On Large Scale Lamp Recycling

By Daniel Krall
Web exclusive follow up to the story published in the February 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

In “Lamp Recycling Still Matters,” the February Professional Development column at Today’s Facility Manager, I explained why recycling is still the most cost-effective way to dispose of mercury containing fluorescent lamps, even in a tough economy. Recycling spent lamps minimizes the financial, environmental, and public relations risks of throwing them away, reduces the potential liability for broken lamps, and creates additional benefits like green marketing opportunities and a safer workplace.

While recycling lamps is a good idea for any size facility, recycling at individual or multiple facilities with a single or combined space of greater than 150,000 square feet can pose distinct challenges. In this article, I review the methods available for recycling large quantities of lamps and show how each method can solve recycling problems and generate benefits for large organizations.

When recycling large quantities of spent fluorescent lamps, facility managers (fms) usually have two disposal options: crushing and storing lamps prior to shipment for recycling or storing intact lamps for bulk pickup and transport to a recycling facility. Determining the appropriate lamp recycling method for a facility can depend on the distribution of the facility square footage, types and quantities of lamps to be recycled, and regulations governing lamp disposal at the facility.

Lamp crushing, also known as bulb crushing, is the intentional on site crushing and storage of spent fluorescent lamps prior to transport to a material recovery facility for recycling. The most common type of crushing system is drum top lamp crushing, in which spent lamps are crushed into a vacuum sealed 55 gallon drum, compacting lamps into easily stored fragments while controlling the release of mercury vapors. While many systems primarily crush tube fluorescent bulbs, some are capable of crushing u-tube and compact fluorescent lamps as well.

Lamp crushers from major providers should adhere to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration mercury emissions standard of no more than 0.1 milligram of mercury vapor per cubic meter of air over eight hours. Though not available in some states, lamp crushing is permitted in most states as treatment of either universal or hazardous waste. Check with your state environmental regulatory agency to learn if lamp crushing is permitted in your area.

Lamp crushing is ideal for facilities that generate large quantities of spent lamps at a single location, usually more than 100 per month. Because the process of feeding bulbs into a vacuum sealed drum is much faster than packaging lamps in boxes, lamp crushing can reduce the labor required to recycle lamps by up to 20 hours per 1,000 lamps. In addition, crushed lamps require only 20% of the storage area required by intact lamps, freeing valuable facility space that would otherwise be filled by boxed lamps. These and other cost saving advantages of lamp crushing often enable fms to reduce overall lamp recycling costs by 50% over other methods.

Where lamp crushing is not allowed, a bulk pickup is often the most cost-effective method of recycling lamps. Bulk pickups of intact spent lamps are available in all 50 states, and in many cases offer the advantage of transporting other types of waste (such as non-crushable bulbs and mercury-containing ballasts, batteries, and electronics) along with the lamps. Recycling lamps via bulk pickup can also lower recycling costs while requiring no upfront investment, and gives users the flexibility to ship lamps on an as needed basis.

While a tough economy and the operational complexity of facilities of greater than 150,000 square feet can make recycling spent fluorescent lamps challenging, there is a recycling solution for every large facility. Whether you manage a large or small facility, or a combination of both, I hope this series of articles has furthered your understanding of the options available for recycling spent fluorescent lamps, and how lamp recycling can help create a more efficient and safe facility and environment.

Daniel Krall
Daniel Krall

Krall is marketing project coordinator at Air Cycle Corporation, an environmental service and product provider specializing in fluorescent lamp, ballast, battery, and electronic waste recycling. For more information, e-mail for more lamp recycling articles and resources from Air Cycle.