Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Part I: Analyzing the Environmental Impact of Different Waste Management Methods: Recycling Vs. Landfills

Recycling mercury-containing lights, such as fluorescent lamps and CFLs, provides many health, safety and environmental advantages. The main advantage of recycling used energy-efficient lights is in preventing mercury from entering the solid waste steam—where a portion of it is likely to be released into the environment. Another advantage is from the reuse of certain raw materials from mercury-containing lamps, including the mercury itself. Although the initial cost for recycling is higher than disposal to landfills, the cost is typically less than 1% of the electric savings allotted from the reduced energy use fluorescent lamps provide over traditional incandescent lights.(1)

Many consumers dispose of used fluorescent lamps in dumpsters, which eventually end up in landfills, where they may emit hazardous mercury vapor into the environment. A study of exposure to broken low-mercury lamps by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection entitled, "Release of Mercury from Broken Fluorescent Bulbs" demonstrated that "elevated airborne levels of mercury could exist in the vicinity of recently broken lamps, and "could exceed occupational exposure limits."(2) Collectively, the total amount of mercury released from lamp breakage adds to the overall mercury pollution in the United States, increasing health and safety hazards for consumers and waste handlers. Increased lamp recycling is recommended to further reduce mercury pollution.

1. “Fluorescent and other Mercury-Containing Lamps and the Environment,” NEMA, March 2005.
2. Aucott, Michael, Michael McLinden, and Michael Winka, 2003, Release of Mercury from Broken Fluorescent Bulbs, Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 53:143-151.

Brad Buscher
Chairman and CEO
VaporLok Products LLC

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