Fluorescent Bulb Recycling:
Program Case Studies and Recommendations
May 11, 2001
bulbs use less energy to produce light than do standard incandescent
bulbs. This helps to reduce the amount of coal burned to provide light and
thus reduces mercury emissions from burning coal. Fluorescent lights
themselves contain mercury though, and are the second largest source of
mercury in our landfills. This paper provides case studies of programs
that collect and recycle fluorescent bulbs to keep mercury from being
emitted to the environment.
law requires that large generators of fluorescent waste manage their waste
and not send it to solid waste. Oregon classifies fluorescent bulbs as
universal waste, which allows generators to collect fluorescent lights
generated by themselves or others for collection before they are recycled
or disposed of. Households and conditionally exempt generators however are
allowed to put fluorescent bulbs in solid waste. Several companies that
collect or collect and recycle fluorescent bulbs have a presence in
PGE’s service area. These recyclers are interested in creating a more
expansive collection program.
are two basic models of fluorescent bulb recycling programs. One is the
type run by county or municipal governments to collect household and
conditionally exempt generator bulbs. Two examples of this program model
are found in Brown County, Wisconsin and Marion County, Oregon. Both
programs collect fluorescent bulbs at one site from households free of
other model uses local retail stores as collection sites for household
fluorescent bulbs. Examples of these programs are found in Minnesota and
Allan County, Indiana. Minnesota has a number of hardware stores that
collect fluorescent bulbs and send them to a recycler. Xcel Energy, a
Minnesota electric utility, supports this program. Allan County uses a
Sears store as a collection site for fluorescent bulbs. The State of
Indiana and the Allan County Solid Waste Department support this program.
these examples, the convenience of recycling locations, the amount of the
recycling fee and the advertisement of the program appear to be three
major factors that affect how many bulbs are collected. Having a broad
network of retail stores brings in more bulbs than having one facility or
collection event. Keeping the price of recycling the bulb low is also a
factor, especially when generators have the option of placing them in
solid waste for no fee. Advertising is a common element among all the
programs, to raise awareness about the need for recycling and to promote
the program itself.
Fluorescent bulbs are
known to use less energy than standard incandescent bulbs for the number
of lumens per watt. Recent improvements in lighting technology have
produced compact fluorescent bulbs that can be used in place of standard
incandescent bulbs. There are significant energy savings to be had by
encouraging the replacement of standard incandescent bulbs with compact
fluorescent bulbs. According to the EPA, compact fluorescent light bulbs
use 75% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and will last up to
ten times longer. One negative impact of compact fluorescent bulbs and
regular fluorescent bulbs is that they contain small amounts of mercury,
and are estimated to be the second largest source of mercury in landfills
nationwide. The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality lists
mercury-containing lamps as the largest source of mercury in Oregon’s
solid waste stream. Once in the landfill the mercury in these bulbs is
often released, which contaminates the air, soil and water. Mercury is a
highly toxic element that stays in the environment for decades and
increases in concentration as it moves up the food chain. Even in small
quantities, mercury causes significant health and ecological problems,
including learning disabilities in children. Mercury is most dangerous to
children and pregnant women.
The total amount of
mercury released into the environment due to a light bulb depends on
whether the light bulb itself contains mercury and the source of the
energy used to illuminate the bulb. Incandescent bulbs contain no mercury,
but fluorescent bulbs contain a few milligrams that can be released if the
bulb is broken. Coal is
commonly the energy source for electricity. Coal usually contains some
amount of mercury, and burning coal for power emits the mercury into the
environment. By using less energy and therefore requiring less coal to be
burned, fluorescent bulbs reduce emissions of mercury from coal burning.
This reduction in mercury emissions is greater than the potential
emissions from a broken fluorescent bulb, and so fluorescent bulbs reduce
the total amount of mercury released into the environment. It is still
imperative though to keep as much mercury out of the environment as
possible. Fortunately, mercury recyclers can recover mercury from
fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent bulbs, further reducing the
amount of mercury that fluorescent lighting puts into the environment.
Even though fluorescent
bulbs can be recycled, many are being added to the landfill. The public is
generally not aware that fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps contain
mercury and are is aware of the importance of recycling them. There are
several programs across the country that have been set up to encourage
fluorescent and compact fluorescent bulb recycling. This paper provides
descriptions of some of these programs and will make general
recommendations for how Portland General Electric might structure a
fluorescent recycling program.
People who generate
mercury-containing lamps in Oregon have several options for disposal of
lamps. There are no regulations regarding the disposal of household
hazardous waste as solid waste. This means that households can dispose of
fluorescent bulbs in their weekly garbage collection. Local waste
authorities however may have limit the amount that one household may
dispose of each week. Metro, for example, will not allow a household to
dispose of more than 25 fluorescent bulbs in one collection. A household
who disposes of more than 25 can either arrange to take them to the Metro
hazardous waste facilities, or take them to a local fluorescent bulb
recycler. The major Metro transfer station in northwest Portland will take
small amounts of fluorescent bulbs free of charge from individual
households. These bulbs are collected and sent to a local fluorescent bulb
Businesses that generate
fluorescent bulb waste face different management requirements. A business
that is a conditionally exempt generator (CEG) may dispose of fluorescent
bulb in the solid waste landfill. A conditionally exempt generator
produces less than 220 pounds of hazardous waste, including fluorescent
bulbs, each month and does not accumulate more than 2200 pounds at one
time. Conditionally exempt generators are subject to the rules of local
waste authorities, such as Metro’s limit of 25 fluorescent bulb per
solid waste load. If they do have a large load, conditionally exempt
generators can take their fluorescent bulbs to the Metro transfer station
to be collected for recycling, but they must make prior arrangements and
must pay a fee to Metro. They are encouraged to make private arrangements
with local fluorescent bulb recyclers to handle their fluorescent bulbs.
Oregon allows fluorescent
bulbs to be managed under the Universal Waste Rule, which encourages the
collection and proper disposal of certain hazardous wastes by streamlining
the regulation and handling requirements for them. A Universal Waste
handler is a person who generates or receives universal waste for the
purpose of consolidation. Fluorescent bulbs are classified as universal
waste and waste lamps must be sent to a universal waste destination
facility for recycling or disposal. Handlers that generate universal waste
may keep the fluorescent bulb on site for one year, unless they can
demonstrate that more time is needed to generate quantities needed for
proper recovery or disposal. Handlers that receive fluorescent bulbs from
off site and accumulate more than 2,200 pounds cannot keep the universal
waste for longer than 6 months without permission from Oregon Department
of Environmental Quality. When the bulbs are disposed of, they are
ultimately subject to hazardous waste requirements. Fluorescent bulbs can
be sent to a hazardous waste facility, universal waste off-site collection
site, or a universal waste destination facility.
There are some
fluorescent bulbs in use that have low mercury content. These bulbs may be
treated as solid waste if the manufacturer provides documentation that the
bulb does exhibit hazardous waste characteristics or if the leachate from
the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) does not exceed 0.2
milligrams per liter.
Fluorescent Light Bulb Recycling in the
PGE Service Area
There are several firms
that recycle fluorescent lights who serve the Portland area. Metro
recycling hotline lists three companies that collect fluorescent bulb for
recycling. Earth Protection Services, Inc. and EcoLights Northwest are
lamp processors that have offices in the Portland area. These companies
collect fluorescent bulbs and send them to be recycled at other locations
by their respective companies. Northwest Fire Fighters Environmental based
in Springfield, acts more as a hazardous waste broker that takes
fluorescent bulb from businesses and households and sends them to another
company to be recycled. These are the three major companies that provide
collection services for fluorescent bulbs within the Portland area and
through the Willamette valley.
There are two basic
models of programs that collect fluorescent light bulbs across the
country. The first is collection programs run by municipal or county solid
waste programs to collect fluorescent bulbs generated by households. The
second is collection programs set up by either local government or private
fluorescent bulb recyclers that use individual retailers as collection
points for fluorescent bulbs.
and Municipal Recycling Programs
There are numerous
programs across the country that are run by the solid waste division of
local governments. These programs are run for the collection of
fluorescent bulbs from households and sometimes small quantity generators
as well, but typically exclude larger businesses from depositing their
fluorescent bulbs. The collection of fluorescent bulbs, especially in more
rural areas, tends to focus around special hazardous waste collection
events that occur at scheduled times during the year. Areas with higher
population more frequently have a facility, such as a transfer station or
a special hazardous waste collection site, where residents can take their
fluorescent bulbs year round. These solid waste or hazardous waste
divisions typically have a contract with a company that handles or
recycles fluorescent bulbs to pick-up these bulbs after collection events
or at regularly scheduled times. The following case studies are two
examples of how such local solid waste fluorescent bulb recycling programs
Brown County, Wisconsin
Wes Daniel 920-492-4950
Brown County has a
permanent facility for fluorescent bulb recycling at their household
hazardous waste facility. They contract with a local mercury recycler
charges a fee to collect and recycle the bulbs. Residents of Brown County
are allowed to dispose of their fluorescent bulbs free of charge, while
non-residents and businesses are charged 25˘ for compact fluorescent
bulbs and fluorescent tubes 4 foot and under, 35˘ for 8 foot bulbs and
$1.50 for all others.
Brown County also runs
The Fluorescent Light Bulb Collection Day in conjunction with a local
recycling company. It was partially funded through a grant from the
Department of Natural Resources and Sustainable Green Bay. The initial
grant ran for two years to fund the event as a demonstration project. The
event is an opportunity for Brown County businesses to not only get rid of
their used bulbs, but also recycle them. To date, 38,000 bulbs have been
collected in this program. They expect 50-60 businesses to bring in
another 20,000 bulbs this fall. All
components of the collected bulbs are recycled: glass, metal and mercury.
The reduced costs for disposal make this a popular event for area
businesses. The contractor has waived their pick up fees and everyone is
given bulk pricing for their bulbs. Brown County has decided to make this
an annual fall event even though the grant funding ended after 1999. They
are starting to see "regular customers" at these collections and
anticipate collecting more than 30,000 bulbs annually as this program
catches on. This day is part of the Pollution Prevention week in Brown
In support of this event
the local Chamber of Commerce shared their mailing list of businesses to
advertise this special collection day by postcard. The number of bulbs
collected started at 7,500 one year, 12,000 next, 27,000 the next and then
to 10,000 the last year. Advertising for the one day collection event was
done mainly through a press release to the local media. A Brown County
employee dubbed a billboard advertising campaign a ‘disaster’ since it
cost a few thousand dollars and did not appreciably increase the turnout.
County Solid Waste Program, Marion
Contact Jeff Bickford
All types of fluorescent
lights generated by households can be deposited at the Salem, Oregon
primary transfer facility for no fee. They only take fluorescent bulbs on
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays due to staffing limitations. They keep the
bulbs covered and in a locked box until EPSI collects them. The Salem
facility is the only one in the county that handles fluorescent bulbs.
They receive primarily long tubes, but get some CFL as well. EPSI takes
them after 500-700 pounds are collected. They average 4-5 shipments to
EPSI each year. Marion County has been advertising fluorescent bulb
recycling for about one year. They do radio, cable TV and newspaper spots,
and send out a tabloid style information letter twice a year. During this
time they have seen fluorescent bulb recycling increase. Marion County has
targeted mercury for recycling because of the waste to energy facility
that burns most of their solid waste. This would put a portion of the
mercury in the waste into the air.
Retail Collection Programs
This type of fluorescent
bulb recycling program is far less common than events or collection
facility programs run by county or municipal solid waste divisions. Very
few people seemed to know of any existing programs, and the two case
studies here are the only two that were found for this report. EPSI is
currently talking with Home Depot about this type of program, but
discussion is still in the early stages.
Allan County, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Stacie Perkowskie 219-449-7878
In 1998, the Governor of
Indiana created a voluntary hazardous waste initiative for the 62 solid
waste districts, and 6 jurisdictions were chosen to be hubs. The hubs are
collection sites for the smaller counties in the program, and the
initiative deals with all types of hazardous waste. Allan County solid
waste serves as a hub for one of the northern parts of Indiana and has a
hazardous waste storage facility there.
The fluorescent recycling
program is run in partnership with one local Sears store in the county,
with another one to be added soon. The program is for residents only,
although businesses have illegally dumped their fluorescent bulbs on the
program. The Sears store has a cylindrical holder for people to place
their old bulbs, and Sears holds the bulbs until they collect enough to
fill two pallets. The program takes bulbs up to 4 feet, and anything
longer has to go to the county storage facility. Bulbs from Sears are sent
to the Allen County hazardous waste storage facility, where they are
stored until they are sent to Global Recycling in Stoughton,
Massachusetts. The program is free of charge to the residents, and the
Sears store is a good location because the mall security can monitor the
bulbs that are brought in to prohibit use by businesses. The program is
very successful and is getting 1,100 bulbs per month, which extrapolates
to about 13,200 bulbs per year.
The cost of the program
is 6.5 ˘ per foot of bulb. The cost of one trip of 23 pallets to go to
Massachusetts is $800. Bulbs from other hubs are combined to gather enough
pallets to make a full load. The program is currently looking for a
recycler that is more local. The State of Indiana supports the program and
now pays for 75% of the cost statewide. Sears is the only store in the
program currently, although Allan County has been contacted by regional
representatives from other home improvement stores. The program may
eventually include these partners, but Allan County does not have the
number of employees necessary to collect bulbs from more than two
The program was
advertised through news releases and TV advertisements. Ads were run
heavily for a time and then decreased in intensity . The program was also
advertised in newspapers and “Waste Watcher”. The advertising is paid
solely by Allan County and not by the state grant or by Sears.
The State made the
program easier by putting out a request for proposals to handle the
fluorescent bulbs for the whole state. Sears happens to use the same
recycling provider, but does not bundle their lights. One benefit to Sears
is the possibility of increased sales. Case studies show that 50% of the
people who recycle bulbs buy new ones on site (http://www.bogfrog.com/
lightbulbpromo.htm). This recycling program has won several awards and was
scheduled to win an award from the Governor on May 7, 2001. The
program has been so successful that it will soon be statewide and involve
sixteen other Sears stores.
Xcel Energy Recycling Program
Contact: Gene Hammer 612-330-5871 or
Yarusso of Mercury Technologies 800-864-3821
This is the only example
of an electric utility involved in a fluorescent bulb recycling program to
be found. Xcel Energy has been mandated by the state of Minnesota to spend
a part of the rate base on conservation improvement programs, which
includes their CFL recycling program. The mandate started in 1993 and the
program collects about 150,000 bulbs per year, at a cost of about $300,000
to Xcel. Xcel Energy serves four states, but runs this program only
Minnesota due to its ban on fluorescent bulbs in solid waste.
There are two avenues
through which the fluorescent bulbs are recycled. One is the hardware
store return program. Once each year in the local newspapers Xcel
distributes a sheet of ten 50˘ coupons for CFL recycling at local
hardware stores. The customers can then use these to receive 50˘ off the
price of the CFL recycling fee. The
program is targeted at households and small businesses. Xcel customers can
also request additional sheets at no charge. This practice is not
advertised and is not closely monitored either, although they do
periodically watch for abuse of the extra sheets by businesses.
Customers are able to
take their bulbs to a number of hardware stores in Minnesota and pay to
have them recycled. The stores each have individual contracts with the
mercury recycler Mercury Technologies in Pine River, Minnesota. The
hardware store packages and prepares the bulbs to be picked up by Mercury
Technologies, which then recycles them. The fee for recycling is set by
the individual stores and ranges from 50˘ to $1 per bulb. The major role
of Xcel in this process is to provide the coupon to encourage people to
recycle their bulbs.
The other avenue for
fluorescent bulb recycling is through household hazardous waste collection
events run by Minnesota counties. Household hazardous waste days are run
by the counties to collect many types of hazardous waste including
fluorescent bulbs. Each county has their own contract with a fluorescent
bulb recycler, which may or may not be Mercury Technologies, for the
materials they collect. Xcel has negotiated to pay a percentage of the
cost borne by the county to recycle the bulbs. In some places this is 100%
of the bulb recycling cost and in others some lesser fraction. Once the
county is billed for the light bulb recycling cost, the county invoices
Xcel for the percentage agreed upon.
The most expensive part
of the program is printing and sending the coupons to the customers. The
coupons are added as an insert to newspapers as an advertising sheet in
five major city newspapers in February. Xcel also sells lights and they
advertise the program in their catalog and as an insert in their bills. In
2000 the programs recycled 162,000 bulbs. Xcel’s customer base is 1.4
Based on the examples
above, there seem to be three major factors that influence success in a
fluorescent bulb recycling program: convenience, price and advertising.
The model of using retail stores for collection sites is more convenient
than county recycling facilities and hazardous waste collection events.
They are more convenient because there are simply more collection sites,
so that urban areas have a greater number of collection sites and rural
areas gain collection sites where there were none before. Retail
collection sites also eliminate the need for a special trip to a hazardous
waste collection facility so that fluorescent bulb recycling can be
combined with other errands. The purchase of a new fluorescent bulb and
the recycling of a used one can be combined. The advantage of convenience
is that it presumably leads to a greater number of fluorescent bulbs being
collected for recycling. Mercury Technologies claims that they collect far
more bulbs through retail collection than they do through county
facilities or events.
One advantage of local
collection facilities or events is that they offer fluorescent bulb
recycling at no cost to households and CEG in some cases. The recycling
charges for retail programs depend on how they are structured. In Xcel’s
program, the coupon pays between 50% to 100% of the price the individual
store charges for fluorescent bulb recycling. Mercury Technologies claims
that some retailers are charging more than it costs them to offer the
recycling. Allan County has combined the two program models by using a
retailer, Sears, as a collection site for a no fee fluorescent bulb
recycling program paid for by the state and county governments. A retail
based fluorescent bulb recycling program is most effective when the
recycling cost to consumers is zero or very close to zero. This is
especially true for Oregon where households and CEG can dispose of
fluorescent bulb in solid waste for no fee.
Oregon has several
advantages for recycling fluorescent bulbs. Two fluorescent bulb recycling
companies have expressed interest in having some type of program to
recycle more fluorescent bulbs from households, and it appears that The
Home Depot is also interested in participating. In addition to having two
fluorescent bulb recyclers in Portland, Oregon Department of Environmental
Quality also allows fluorescent bulb to be treated as universal waste.
This lets retailers such as those mentioned in the programs above to
collect fluorescent bulbs on site for recycling. The PGE service area also
is generally an environmentally conscious population that would be
receptive to fluorescent bulb recycling.
One disadvantage of
Oregon’s situation is that CEGs and households are allowed to dispose of
fluorescent bulb as solid waste. Given that there is some cost associated
with recycling fluorescent bulb, the least expensive option for these
generators is to put them in solid waste. Minnesota has banned this
option, and as a result has a very good statewide program set up for
fluorescent bulb collection and recycling. A rule of this type in Oregon
would encourage parties to form their own partnerships for fluorescent
In light of the
advantages and disadvantages above, combined with general conclusions from
the case studies, it seems that PGE could partner with interested local
retailers and a fluorescent bulb recycler to create a successful retail
collection program. It will benefit retailers by increasing foot traffic,
increasing light bulb sales and promoting an environmental public image.
The fluorescent bulb recyclers will see their business grow from the
increased amount of light bulbs recycled. PGE’s role could be to
facilitate the relationships between retailers and fluorescent bulb
recyclers and to subsidize the recycling fee. Advertising for the program
would need to be worked out between the partners. Although they are
expensive, coupons are an effective method to enforce how many bulbs can
be recycled by one generator and to track bulbs that are recycled through
the program for billing and other purposes.
The incorporation of
municipal and county fluorescent bulb recycling programs is another option
to consider. The counties could be left to do their own recycling
independent of the retail collection program, or they could be paid by PGE
for a percentage of the cost of the bulbs they recycle. Counties like
Marion County have already invested resources into their fluorescent bulb
recycling efforts in the form of facilities, contracts and advertising.
Since citizens often turn to these agencies for recycling and waste
information, municipal and county agencies could be very effective
partners for the advertising and awareness aspect of a fluorescent bulb
recycling program. A retail program would likely ease the financial burden
on municipal and county programs as well as promote their goal of keeping
mercury out of the landfill. The most effective way to bring in these
agencies might be to pay for a percentage of their recycling costs at
transfer facilities and collection events in return for their help in
advertising the program.
Brown County is the only
program to deal with fluorescent bulb recycling for large businesses.
These businesses cannot discard their fluorescent bulb as solid. In an
area like Portland where there are a number of fluorescent bulb recyclers,
it seems unnecessary to have events for businesses to bring in their
bulbs. Businesses could presumably bring their bulbs to retailers in a
retail program and pay the full recycling fee without a coupon.
Representatives from both retail collection programs above suspected that
there is some abuse of the program by businesses, but it was not large
enough to be a concern for either. Some monitoring of the coupons would
still need to be done though to ensure that PGE was not paying for a
businesses fluorescent bulb recycling.
The cost of the program
can be benchmarked only against Xcel’s. Xcel’s Minnesota customer base
is similar in size to PGE’s, so all other things being equal, Xcel’s
cost could be similar to what a PGE program would cost. Costs can vary
depending on the number of fluorescent bulbs recycled, whether or not PGE
pays a percentage of municipal recycling costs, the prices charged by the
recycler and other factors.
Allen County Waste
Watcher Fluorescent Light Bulbs Website. http://www.acwaste watcher.com/hazardous_waste_pages/fluorescent_bulbs.php.
Visited April 18, 2001.
Brown County Bulb
Collection Day Website. http://www.co.brown.wi.us/ Solid_Waste/new_page_5.htm.
Visited April 16, 2001.
Services, Inc. Website. http://www.earthpro.com/. Visited May 2, 2001.
Website. http://www.ecolights.com/. Visited May 2, 2001.
Collection of Mercury-Added Products.” Land and Water Resource Council.
Report to the Joint Standing Committee on Natural Resources, 119th
Maine Legislature, January 1, 1999.
Marion County Solid Waste
Management Recycling Depot Website. http://www.open. org/~mswm/depots.htm.
Visited April 25, 2001.
“Mercury in the
Environment.” Minnesota Department of Health. http://www.health.
Northern States Power
Company Fluorescent Bulb Recycling Website. http://www. nspco.com/fh/fh_epsp_br.htm.
Visited April 16, 2001.
Phone conversation with
Wes Daniel of Brown County Waste Management, Brown County, Wisconsin.
April 25, 2001.
Phone conversation with
Metro Recycling Information Hotline, April 16, 2001.
Phone conversation with
Gene Hammer of Xcel Energy, Minnesota, April 26, 2001.
Phone conversation with
Stacie Perkowskie of Allen County Solid Waste District, Fort Wayne,
Indiana, April 26, 2001.
Phone conversation with
Sue Yarusso of Mercury Technologies, Pine River Minnesota, April 29, 2001.
Phone conversation with
Jeff Bickford of Marion County Solid Waste Management, Salem, Oregon.
April 30, 2001.
Phone conversation with
John Chilcott of Earth Protection Services, Inc., Lake Oswego, Oregon, May
Phone conversation with
Jim Pursley of EcoLights Northwest, Portland, Oregon, May 10, 2001.
Phone conversation with
Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, May 11, 2001.
Mercury-Containing Lamp Management.” Oregon Department of Environmental
Visited April 25, 2001.
US EPA Energy Star
Program. Compact Fluorescent Light Information. http://www.energystar.gov/products/cfls/.
Visited April 16, 2001.
Vopel, R. “Fact Sheet
Waste Lamps and Ballasts.” Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
December 14, 2000.
Waste Off-Site Collection Sites and Hazardous Waste Brokers
Recycling (HIDs Only)
Appendix C - Xcel Coupons