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Commercial Lighting

Lighting products, including efficient fluorescent lamps such as “T8” models, can reduce energy costs for businesses and commercial enterprises. Fluorescent lamps offer excellent lumen maintenance, long service life, improved color rendering, excellent color stability, multiple color temperature choices, instant-on availability and dim-ability. All of these lamps contain mercury and lighting manufacturers strongly support recycling as the preferred management option at end-of-life.

This site offers information on regulations that affect how mercury-containing lamps are handled and disposed; and private companies that provide collection and recycling services.  In general, commercial/industrial/institutional facilities that generate mercury-added lamps and other hazardous waste above a certain threshold are required by Federal Law to recycle that material. These requirements are contained in the Federal Universal Waste Rule (UWR, see

Universal wastes are hazardous waste items commonly disposed of by households and small businesses in the solid waste stream.  The UWR was developed to encourage recycling and proper disposal of these wastes, which meet the Federal criteria for hazardous waste but are widely generated and typically do not pose an immediate and undue risk. Universal wastes are subject to less stringent standards for handling, storage, and transport. Full hazardous waste requirements remain, however, for the final recycling, treatment or disposal of these wastes. 

Specific UWR requirements vary based on the volume of universal waste handled or generated, so generators are encouraged to review the rule and seek additional information as needed from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their local and state authorities.

The UWR provisions that pertain to mercury-containing lamps were added by the EPA in 1999 (40 CFR Part 273).  Incorporating lamps into the UWR was a major step in facilitating removal of waste lamps from municipal solid waste and incinerators, thus helping to prevent mercury releases into the environment.

Recycling Regulations

As noted above, disposal of mercury-containing lamps by businesses is regulated by Federal Law under the UWR (40 CFR Part 273). This rule prohibits most businesses from disposing of hazardous mercury-containing lamps in traditional municipal landfills. Applicability is determined by the volume of waste lamps (and other universal waste) handled during a designated period. In most situations, recycling is the only viable disposal option for waste lamps.

The advantage of the UWR is that it imposes minimal requirements on generators (i.e., businesses) that recycle lamps – no permitting is needed and no special tracking or reporting is required. Most states have adopted the Federal UWR, which contains exemptions for Conditional Small Quantity Generators and households. The Federal law is a baseline, however, and some states have adopted stricter requirements that tighten or eliminate exemptions. Businesses are encouraged to check with their state/local regulatory authorities to determine the rules in their area. Contact information for each state is provided under Commercial State Regulations.

Energy Efficient Lighting

Lighting accounts for approximately 20% of electricity use in commercial buildings, as shown by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

Fluorescent lamps, as defined by Wikipedia, use 25%-35% of the energy used by incandescent lamps to provide the same amount of illumination. HID lamps use 10-25% of the lighting energy of incandescent lamps they replace. The comparative energy-efficiency of fluorescent lamps and HID lamps is made possible because an electric arc converts a tiny amount of mercury in the lamp to a gas, which enables the creation of visible light. 

Mercury is the only known element that will provide the energy-efficiency experienced by fluorescent and metal halide lamps. Ultraviolet lamps used in tanning equipment and for germicidal purposes as well as neon lamps also use small amounts of mercury. At the end of a fluorescent, ultraviolet, neon, or metal halide lamp’s life, there is an even smaller amount of mercury gas left in the tube and mercury atoms that still adhere to the interior of the lamp.

To keep this small amount of remaining mercury out of landfills, businesses, schools, governments and building owners should dispose of fluorescent, ultraviolet, neon, and metal halide lamps separately from regular commercial and building waste. Some states mandate that businesses and building owners recycle mercury-added lamps. Local waste disposal and public works authorities can be consulted for lamp recycling requirements and opportunities. An entire industry of commercial lamp recyclers, ALMR, has evolved to collect and recycle fluorescent and HID lamps from apartment and office buildings, retail stores and warehouses, schools and government buildings. This website provides businesses and building owners with an opportunity to find commercial lamp recyclers in their area.