While they’re not typically recommended for lighting, some people still use fluorescent tubes in their household.
Once these start to wear out, what do you do with them?
It’s vitally important to be aware of what to do with old fluorescent tubes regardless of whether they’re broken or still intact.
They are considered toxic and if they are not handled properly can be dangerous.
This guide is meant to help you know what to do with them when they are no longer working.
Note that we don’t recommend you use fluorescent tubes to light your home.
What happens when Fluorescent Tubes Break?
When a fluorescent tube breaks, it is dangerous because the contents of the tube are harmful if ingested or even come into contact with the skin.
Many fluorescent tubes contain mercury.
Some of these older models also are coated with a polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coating.
Mercury is extremely toxic, and while the level of mercury in older fluorescent tubes is not likely to be life threatening, there’s no reason to take chances.
If you have broken a fluorescent tube, there are some precautions you can take to prevent damage to your health and your environment.
If you break a fluorescent tube, be aware that the contents are toxic.
Cleanup should start with the most heavily contaminated areas.
People who might have come into contact with broken tubes should have their clothing and shoes removed, then thoroughly washed.
If cleanup doesn’t start immediately, discard the clothing and shoes because they will be too contaminated to clean up easily.
This is what you should do when a fluorescent tube breaks into pieces;
- Let personnel out of the room.
- Open the windows on the room to allow in lots of air.
- If possible, you should switch off the air conditioning.
- Get a sizeable piece of cardboard and use it to scoop up the shattered glass and other components of the fluorescent tube.
- Use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of the powder, dust and other particles left behind.
- Put everything in a sealed trash bag and place it outside. Later on, drop-off the broken waste at a community recycling facility or call the waste disposal company and request them to pick it up.
Precautions for safe handling and disposal of fluorescent tubes
There are two different kinds of fluorescent tubes: mercury vapor and high pressure sodium vapor.
Both types of tubes contain a small amount of mercury, about 5 milligrams each, which is about the same amount as in a mercury thermometer.
There is no risk from handling intact fluorescent tubes, but broken or damaged ones should be handled with caution because the mercury can be released into the environment.
Precaution and safety are important not just because of the presence of mercury at the break point, but also because shattered glass in a fluorescent tube may contaminate the resulting powder with mercury.
If this happens, it is imperative to contain any potential danger by either sifting out or rendering unusable any glass fragments in a broken tube.
Mercury is highly toxic to humans and exposure to it can cause brain, kidney, and lung damage.
The symptoms of exposure include nausea, headaches, skin rashes, and muscle tremors.
In some cases mercury can be fatal depending on the amount of exposure.
Children under six years old are particularly at risk for mercury toxicity because their growing bodies absorb it easily.
Research indicates that one of the many toxic effects of mercury is developmental defects.
A broken fluorescent tube should never be thrown in the trash.
If these bulbs are broken and release mercury into the environment it can contaminate soils and water, as well as fish downstream from the breakage.
What to do with old fluorescent tubes
At some point, your fluorescent bulb will eventually wear out and need to be replaced.
When this happens, there are a few things you can do with the bulb and components of the bulb that a consumer may have difficulty in properly disposing.
First and foremost, these are considered to be hazardous waste.
As such, the way you dispose of them will depend on where you live in the United States.
Below is what you should do with your old fluorescent tubes.
Seek the services of a waste collection agency
Fluorescent light bulbs are hazardous waste in most areas, but some states may have special disposal requirements.
Check with your Local County or city office for guidelines about disposal in your area.
The parts of a fluorescent bulb that contain mercury need to be handled safely and disposed of properly, as outlined in your state’s hazardous waste regulations.
A properly trained professional will safely handle and dispose of these bulbs.
The best way to properly dispose of these bulbs is by contacting local hazardous waste disposal centers, or even the Environmental Protection Agency’s Household Hazardous Waste Recycling Program.
Often, local waste collection services will collect this type of bulb from your home, or you can call them to make arrangements for pickup.
They usually have schedules for waste collection and can advise you on the cost if there is a fee.
Also, some waste collection agencies collect hazardous waste once or twice in a year.
If that happens to be the case, you’ll need to keep the bulbs somewhere safe until the waste collection agency arrives.
To find a local hazardous waste disposal center, visit Earth911’s searchable database.
By contacting one of these services, you can dispose of them properly, minimizing the chances of hazardous waste being released into the environment.
Take fluorescent tubes back to a local retailer for in-store recycling
Nowadays, a couple of states have laws that require retailers to accept fluorescent bulbs and other items for recycling.
This is a good way to dispose of the old lights in some places, but it may not be available in all states.
Call your local retailer or distributor to find out what recycling options are available and if you can recycle them at the store.
Although you can’t get cash for the tubes, you can often get a discount on new fluorescent bulbs if you bring in your old ones.
Recycling is the best option for disposing of fluorescent tubes if it’s possible in your area.
Don’t throw them in the trash or in recycling bins.
No matter what kind of fluorescent tubes you have, it’s important to remember that they contain mercury, a very toxic material.
While this amount is too little to cause acute poisoning in humans, it can cause long-term damage as well as death if there is enough exposure.
So, when these light bulbs end up in a dumpster, they break easily and release the highly toxic substance into the environment.
This mercury slowly builds up in the atmosphere and soon comes down to our surroundings in the form of rain, snow or fog.
Mercury then enters our food chain and accumulates in fish and other animals that we eat, making it unsafe for us to consume.
According to Better Health Channel, some fish contains mercury which can affect the unborn babies and lead to major developmental delays.
Therefore, it is extremely important that you dispose of fluorescent tubes carefully.
Use mail-back services
If your state has not yet passed legislation requiring retailers to accept fluorescent bulbs for recycling, you may have another option to dispose of them.
Many states offer mail-back programs that have the facilities to properly recycle fluorescent light bulbs.
You can find a mail-back program near you at the US EPA’s Household Hazardous Waste Recycling page or Earth911’s hazardous recyclable or hazardous waste search tools.
Look for manufacturers or organizations that provide pre-labeled recycling kits.
These kits are designed to allow you safely mail your old fluorescent bulbs to the organization that will recycle them.
The kits include a 10-cent postage-paid mailer and pre-paid labels for the shipping box.
You just need to fill your recycling kit with all of your used fluorescent bulbs and wrap it with the pre-paid mailing label.
You can then drop it off at your local post office, or arrange to have it picked up from your home.
Mailing these waste products properly is the safest way to get rid of them and keep our air and water clean.
The best way to get rid of fluorescent tubes is through local retailers, who often have hazardous waste disposal programs in place.
If your state has upcoming legislation mandating recycling of all fluorescent bulbs, it may be essential to use mail-back services or programs offered by manufacturers or other organizations that offer pre-labeled mailers and shipping boxes.
It’s best to check with your local government and retailers to see what they offer before throwing these products in a dumpster.
How do I dispose of fluorescent bulbs near me?
You can drop off old fluorescent tubes at a local retailer that offers in-store recycling services for bulbs.
If you can’t find a recycling facility in your locality, check the Earth 911 website for a searchable database of hazardous waste disposal centers.
Is it okay to leave fluorescent lights on at night?
Yes, if you have an emergency, you should never compromise your safety.
However, leaving them on unnecessarily will use more energy and increase your electric bill charges.
How do I dispose of fluorescent tubes in Colorado?
In most areas, you’ll have access to the household hazardous waste collection for free.