Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Fluorescent and HID Lamps

Hazardous Waste Lamp Management

Many waste fluorescent lamps are hazardous wastes due to their mercury content. Other examples of lamps that, when spent, are commonly classified as hazardous waste include: high-intensity discharge (HID), neon, mercury vapor, high pressure sodium, and metal halide lamps. Low-mercury or green end cap lamps that pass the TCLP are not as regulated hazardous wastes but still contain mercury and are subject to the Mercury-Added Consumer Products Law, described above.

The accumulation of mercury in the environment and the food chain is a serious environmental and health hazard. On July 6, 1999, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) published a final rule in the Federal Register that added hazardous waste lamps to the Universal Waste Rule (64 FR 36465 - 36490). The rule was adopted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). Prior to adoption into regulations, the use of the universal waste rule for hazardous waste lamps in New York state was allowed from January 6, 2000 through the use of an Enforcement Directive.

Generators of hazardous waste lamps may choose between handling their lamps under the traditional regulatory scheme or as universal wastes. To facilitate compliance with New York State's Mercury Added Consumer Products Law, low mercury lamps may also be handled under the universal waste rule. However, once lamps are declared to be universal wastes, they must continue to be handled as universal wastes. (Jumping back and forth between the traditional RCRA approach and the universal waste rule to avoid any requirements is prohibited.) A handler of hazardous waste lamps who fails to comply with the New York state universal waste rule may be considered to be in violation of hazardous waste laws and regulations. Under New York state's Universal Waste Rule, 6 NYCRR Part 364 Waste Transporter requirements are still applicable, requiring a waste transporter permit for transporters carrying more than 500 pounds of universal wastes.

Traditional RCRA Approach

The ordinary hazardous waste regulations require generators of potential hazardous wastes to determine if their wastes are hazardous waste and to manage their hazardous waste commensurate with their level of hazardous waste activity. In New York State, the hazardous waste regulations are found in 6 NYCRR Parts 370 through 374-3 and 376.

A helpful guidance manual for small quantity hazardous waste generators, "Environmental Compliance Assistance for Small Businesses" (528 Kb, PDF) is available for download.

Universal Waste Rule

To streamline environmental regulations for wastes generated by numerous sources in relatively small quantities, USEPA issued the Universal Waste Rule in 1995. This rule is designed to reduce the amount of hazardous waste in the municipal solid waste stream, to encourage the recycling and proper disposal of some common hazardous wastes and to reduce the regulatory burden on generators. For hazardous waste lamps, this rule has been available for use in New York state since January 6, 2000.

Universal wastes include such items as hazardous batteries, hazardous mercury-containing thermostats, certain pesticides, and hazardous lamps. Universal wastes are generated not only in the industrial settings usually associated with hazardous wastes, but also in a wide variety of other settings, including households, schools, office buildings, and medical facilities. Although handlers of universal wastes must meet less stringent standards for storing, transporting, and collecting wastes, the wastes must comply with full hazardous waste requirements for final recycling, treatment, or disposal. This approach helps to remove these wastes from municipal landfills and incinerators, providing stronger safeguards for public health and the environment.

Small Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste (less than 5,000 kg or 11,000 lbs of total universal wastes, including hazardous batteries, certain hazardous pesticides, hazardous thermostats, or hazardous lamps, calculated collectively, on site at any time): Requirements include packaging in a way to minimize breakage; immediately cleaning up any leaks or spills; and properly labeling containers.

Large Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste (5,000 kg or 11,000 lbs or more of total universal wastes on site at any time): Requirements include EPA notification; packaging in a way to minimize breakage; immediately cleaning up any leaks or spills; properly labeling containers; and complying with record keeping and reporting requirements.

Universal Waste Transporters: Requirements include meeting applicable DOT standards; complying with record keeping and reporting requirements; and complying with applicable requirements of 6 NYCRR Part 364 if transporting more than 500 lbs of total universal waste in any shipment. Common carriers can transport up to 500 lbs of universal waste in any shipment.

Destination Facilities: Comply with all applicable requirements of 6 NYCRR Parts 370 through 374-3 and 376, including notification of hazardous waste activity and obtaining a Part 373 (hazardous waste) permit, if applicable.

Answers To Common Questions

1. How do I know if my lamps are hazardous?
Because of their mercury content, most fluorescent lamps in current use are considered hazardous wastes when taken out of service for disposal. Other lamps that are commonly classified as hazardous waste due to the presence of mercury or lead include high-intensity discharge (HID), neon, mercury vapor, high pressure sodium, and metal halide lamps. If you want to know for sure, you can have them analyzed by a laboratory test called the "Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP)." Most major manufacturers are now producing a line of fluorescent lamps which they claim are non-hazardous low-mercury or "green end cap" lamps. When these bulbs are taken out of service, manufacturer's data may be used to help determine if they are a hazardous waste.

2. How do I handle low-mercury fluorescent lamps?
Under Chapter 145, Laws of 2004, "Mercury-Added Consumer Products Law," even low-mercury (green end cap) lamps are subject to certain management standards. Under this law, defined Small Businesses may discard of up to fifteen low-mercury lamps per calendar month. If the non-hazardous lamps are commingled with universal waste lamps, all of the waste is regulated as universal waste. The Department strongly encourages the recycling of any lamps containing mercury.

3. Now that the Universal Waste Rule is available for hazardous waste lamps, must I use it?
No, handlers of hazardous waste lamps may choose between traditional hazardous waste regulations and Universal Waste Rule standards. However, flip-flopping between the two sets to avoid meeting requirements of one or both regulations is not allowed. For example, both management scenarios include storage time limits. Flip-flopping between regulations will not extend storage time.

4. Do hazardous waste lamps count in determining my generator category? Must hazardous waste lamps be indicated on my annual hazardous waste report?
Under traditional hazardous waste regulations, hazardous waste lamps must be counted in determining whether you are a conditionally exempt small quantity generator, a small quantity generator or a large quantity generator; they must also be reported on the generator annual report if you are required to file an annual report. Lamps managed under the Universal Waste Rule are not counted for the purpose of determining generator category, and need not be reported on your hazardous waste report. However, they are counted for regulatory fee purposes.

5. Lamp crushers - I am considering the purchase of a lamp crusher to minimize my waste volume. How is crushing of hazardous waste lamps regulated?
Lamps being managed under the Universal Waste Rule may not be crushed. If you wish to crush your lamps, you will need to manage the lamps under the traditional hazardous waste regulations. This will require that you count the weight of the lamps toward determining hazardous waste generator category, and meet applicable generator, transporter and transfer facility standards. Crushing is considered a form of hazardous waste treatment, and under ordinary hazardous waste generator regulations, hazardous waste lamps may be crushed only if the process is exempt from hazardous waste treatment regulations (6 NYCRR 373-1.1(d)(1)).

Common exemptions that might apply to crushing lamps are: on-site treatment by a conditionally exempt small quantity generator; the first step of a recycling process, if the lamps will be directed to a mercury recycler, or treatment in the tank or container in which the lamps are stored. Generators wishing to use one of the latter two exemptions should seek specific guidance from the Waste Determination & Analysis Section. The crushed lamps are usually considered hazardous waste for mercury, and sometimes for lead, and must be handled and disposed of in accordance with normal hazardous waste requirements.

Facilities that use in-house bulb crushers should be aware of possible personnel exposures to mercury vapor. EPA has published a study of Drum Top Crushers; the report is available on the right side of this page under "Links Leaving DEC's Website".

6. Transportation - Can I put my lamps in the trash dumpster?
Lamps handled under the Universal Waste Rule cannot be put in the trash dumpster because they would not be handled in a way to minimize breakage. Generators of universal waste lamps can self-transport up to 500 lbs of lamps per shipment to an authorized universal waste handler, or treatment or disposal facility under the provisions of 6 NYCRR Part 364. Conditionally exempt, small or large quantity hazardous waste generators cannot put hazardous waste lamps in the trash dumpster.

7. Under the Universal Waste Rule, do my lamps have to be directed to a recycler?
No, lamps may be directed to a treatment or disposal facility if the receiving facility is authorized to accept hazardous waste lamps. However, NYSDEC strongly recommends recycling of hazardous waste lamps to reduce the accumulation of mercury in the environment. A list of fluorescent and HID lamp recyclers is available on this website at the link given at the bottom of this page.

8. How do I get rid of waste lamps from my household?
Households are exempt from the ordinary hazardous waste regulations. Lamps discarded by households are also exempt from New York State's Mercury-Added Consumer Products Law. Lamps may legally be disposed as normal household trash if allowed by the municipality, the trash collector and the disposal facility. However, households are encouraged to contact the town or county solid waste management authority to determine whether there are any household hazardous waste collection facilities or events in their community at which hazardous waste lamps are collected, or to contact local lamp recyclers to see if they accept lamps from households.

9. What do I do if I break a compact fluorescent lamp/bulb (CFL) in my home?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy provide guidance on how the general public can clean up a broken CFL. "FAQ - Information on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and Mercury" (70 Kb pdf) is available for download.

More about Fluorescent and HID Lamps: