Hazardous Waste Management Manual, Procedure for Disposal of Fluorscent bulbs


Analysis of fluorescent light bulbs at NMSU has shown mercury levels above the hazardous limit of 0.2 mg/l, which requires that NMSU collect and recycle all fluorescent light bulbs that are not specifically marked as ecologically safe. Only ecologically safe bulbs can be placed in the regular trash.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has specific requirements governing the management of waste lamps that are not ecologically safe. Summaries of these requirements are outlined below. Failure to comply can lead to steep fines. Other universities across the country, including UNM and UTEP, are following similar procedures.

Procedures for Collecting & Recycling Fluorescent light bulbs

(modified from EH&S memo, Waste Lamp Handlers, October 31, 2000)

1. Place waste bulbs in sturdy containers with no holes in a designated collection area that will prevent breakage. All holes must be covered with duct tape. These containers must be closed when bulbs are not being added. The best containers to use are the original boxes in which the bulbs are shipped.

2. Each waste bulb container must be labeled “Universal Waste-Lamps”. Each container must also be dated with the date the first bulb was placed inside. Waste bulbs can be stored for up to one year provided that all the bulbs weigh less than 11,024 pounds total. Then the bulbs must be shipped to an EPA permitted treatment facility.

3. All broken bulbs must be immediately cleaned up, placed in a closed container, labeled as “broken light bulb” and turned in to the Safety Office as hazardous waste (see procedures below). If a bulb with high mercury content (street bulb) or multiple bulbs break, call EH&S before clean up.

4. All employees that handle waste bulbs must be trained annually in the above requirements. Training must be documented. Reading, signing, and posting this memo can serve as training.

If you have any questions concerning these procedure or waste disposal, contact Environmental Health & Safety (see contact info below).

Storage of Fluorescent Light Bulb

  • Store the lights in a box or case to prevent breakage before use. Keep them out of reach of children or pets.
  • Handle fluorescent lights carefully to prevent breakage.

1. If a fluorescent lamp breaks, it releases a small amount mercury (from 4 -30 milligrams per tube). This amount of mercury exposure could pose a health risk (particularly to pregnant woman and small children).

2. Open windows, outside doors, or provide fans to ventilate and leave the area for 15 minutes. If possible, close doors that lead into interior rooms.

Do not use a vacuum cleaner at this point.

3. Use a sealable container or plastic bag to hold the broken glass and clean-up materials for disposal. Pick up the larger pieces first.

Do not use your bare hands. If possible, wear disposable gloves. If gloves are not available, pick up the larger pieces using a wet paper towel or disposable wipe. Put the large pieces in your disposal container. Carefully scoop up the small slivers of glass fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard. Use a sticky tape (such as duct tape) to pick up small pieces of glass and powder.

4. Use damp paper towels or disposable wipes to clean up the area. Place these paper towels or wipes in the disposal bag or container as well. If the light broke in a carpeted area, do all these steps before any vacuuming is done.

  • The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommends that if you vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, that you “remove the vacuum bag once you are done cleaning the area (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the vacuum bag and/or vacuum debris, as well as the cleaning materials, in 2 sealed plastic bags” for disposal.

5. Place the plastic bag or container into a cardboard box for extra protection. Seal up the box with tape. Wash your hands thoroughly after the clean-up.

For more information on fluorescent lamp disposal and recycling see the following web sites;

If you have questions concerning these procedures or precautions contact the Environmental Health and Safety at 575-646-3327, via email (see link below), or visit our web site at http://safety.nmsu.edu.