Many types of lamps are hazardous waste and if they are from a business they cannot be disposed in the trash. While lamps generated from households are not regulated as hazardous waste we encourage homeowners to recycle their lamps. Homeowners should refer to Ohio EPA’s webpage about fluorescent lamps.
All fluorescent lamps (as well as other types of lamps) contain elemental mercury. Unlike other metals elemental mercury is a liquid at room temperature and will vaporize when it is not contained. Mercury vapors can be inhaled thus entering the body. Mercury can also enter your body by being absorbed through your skin. Mercury is a toxic substance that can damage the nervous system and also harm the kidneys. When lamps are improperly discarded the mercury can enter the environment where it combines with organic substances to form a very toxic substance called methyl mercury.
When kept intact lamps are safe to handle. In addition, lamps are very recyclable. The metal end caps and the glass and the phosphor powder can all be recycled. The mercury is easily recovered and can be reused. Because of this lamps generated from businesses, that are going to be recycled, can be managed as universal waste. (See more about universal waste).
In the universal waste rules the term “lamp” applies all hazardous waste lamps including: incandescent, fluorescent, metal halide, neon, high-intensity discharge, high-pressure sodium and mercury-vapor lamps. Lamps may also contain lead and cadmium. Because most lamps exhibit the characteristic of toxicity for heavy metals when disposed, they could be a hazardous waste.
Before you throw any lamps in the trash, you must evaluate the lamps to determine if the lamps are hazardous. If you determine your lamps are hazardous and you choose not to handle them under the universal waste rules, you must them as hazardous waste. Although the universal waste compliance standards are not required, you may manage your non-hazardous lamps under the universal waste rule. Since they are very recyclable, Ohio EPA strongly recommends recycling all lamps (even from households) even if they do not meet the criteria for hazardous waste.