1:5:10:365 EcoTip Blog

March 26, 2008

:086 HazMat Disposal

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Welcome to today’s 1:5:10:365 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.

1:5:10:086 Tip: Every county in the U.S. is required to have a plan for household hazardous waste disposal. It may not cover every type of hazard, but most of them are addressed. So if you’ve decided to clean out that pile of unused – whatever, give your county a call first to find out what arrangements they have for disposing of it safely.

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Additional Information

Left over pesticides, herbicides, unused paints and sealants, cleaning products, auto maintenance materials and many other chemicals may be considered hazardous wastes. The label will generally tell you how they must be disposed, but not always. Appliances and electronics contain amazing amounts of hazardous waste materials. Each computer or television contains about 5 pounds of lead. Our appliances also frequently contain mercury switches or thermocouples. Some older fluorescent ballasts and appliances capacitors contain PCBs, fluorescent tubes have mercury, batteries may have lead, mercury and other toxic or hazardous chemicals.

Once you know what options your county has check in on-line at www.earth911.org and entering the item you want to get rid of and your zip code. They provide great information on how to recycle and dispose of just about every type of household hazardous waste product.

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January 30, 2008

:030 Mercury Clean-up

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United Kingdom instructions for cleaning up broken CFLs

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Welcome to today’s 1:5:10:365 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.

1:5:10:030 Tip:  When fluorescent tubes break they release the hazardous heavy metal mercury. The above ten steps are the published recommendations in the United Kingdom. I would add to these ten steps EPAs recommendation to:  Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.

See you tomorrow

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Additional Information

EPA’s information on broken CFL clean-up can be found at: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/spills/index.htm#flourescent 

They have additional mercury clean-up information including for broken thermometers. They state:

What Never to Do with a Mercury Spill

  • Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury (but see the “What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks” section below for more specific instructions about vacuuming broken fluorescent light bulbs). The vacuum will put mercury into the air and increase exposure. The vacuum appliance will be contaminated and have to be thrown away.
  • Never use a broom to clean up mercury. It will break the mercury into smaller droplets and spread them.
  • Never pour mercury down a drain. It may lodge in the plumbing and cause future problems during plumbing repairs. If discharged, it can cause pollution of the septic tank or sewage treatment plant.
  • Never wash mercury-contaminated items in a washing machine. Mercury may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
  • Never walk around if your shoes might be contaminated with mercury. Contaminated clothing can also spread mercury around.

Top of page

What to Do if a Fluorescent Light Bulb Breaks

USEPA states: Fluorescent light bulbs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:

  1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  2. Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealed plastic bag.
    1. Use disposable rubber gloves, if available (i.e., do not use bare hands). Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag.
    2. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
  3. Place all cleanup materials in a second sealed plastic bag.
    1. Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag and put it in the outdoor trash container or in another outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal.
      Note: Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a local recycling center.
    2. Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.
  4. If a fluorescent bulb breaks on a rug or carpet:
    1. First, remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner, following the steps above. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.
    2. If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag or vacuum debris in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

[Note from John Banta: some sources are now stating the area of carpet that came in contact with the mercury should be cut out and thrown away. In any case vacuuming the area as suggested by EPA could release additional mercury vapors into the air of the home. It would be safer if the vacuum cleaner could be set outside or its exhaust directed to the outside where it would be diluted. Still none of this is very comforting.]

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January 29, 2008

:029 CFL Safe Disposal

Welcome to today’s 1:5:10:365 Tip for becoming a better steward for our home and planet.

1:5:10:029 Tip: Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) contain an average of 5 milligrams of mercury (older ones may have up to 20 milligrams). They should be recycled to remove and reclaim the mercury to prevent it from contaminating landfills with the hazardous waste. 

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Tomorrow I will talk about what to do if a fluorescent tube breaks.

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Additional Information

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Every county in the United States is supposed to have a hazardous waste disposal program, but most don’t accept fluorescent bulbs and tubes.

IKEA stores have added mercury recycle/disposal station in its customer service area where they accept used CFLs and batteries at no charge.

Sylvainia corporation has set up a disposal program using the RecyclePac shown above. The pack contains padding material in a shipping box which is sent by to the recyclers. The cost of disposal works out to a little over a dollar a bulb.

Check with www.earth911.org to find other disposal options by entering your zip-code (or call 1-877-EARTH911).

According to the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers: 

“70.8% of the mercury-lamps used by business and 98% of the lamps used in homes are not being recycled.”

You can obtain a copy of their annual report and additional information at www.lamprecycle.org.

EPA has the following website to help you: Find fluorescent light bulb recycling programs in your area

Finally you should check directly with your local waste management agency for recycling options if they don’t have an easy recycling/disposal process in place in your community, you may choose to lobby them and your local community government to set something up.

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