Hazardous Waste Program fact sheet
Division of Environmental Quality Director: Leanne Tippett Mosby

Certain fluorescent lamps may contain toxic metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead. Unbroken lamps pose minimal threat to human health or the environment. However, fluorescent lamps contain mercury vapor under pressure, and when they are broken, people may be exposed to toxic levels of mercury vapor and other metals. Studies show that about 80 percent of elemental mercury inhaled may be absorbed into the lungs of humans. Toxic metals accumulate in living tissues and may cause severe nervous system damage.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources encourages prudent lamp recycling to safeguard human health and to limit the amounts of toxic heavy metals entering the environment. Please note that this guidance is not intended for use by interim status or permitted hazardous waste treatment, storage or disposal facilities.

Fluorescent Lamps Described
There are various sizes and types of fluorescent lamps. In addition to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), four and eight-foot long lamps are typically used in homes, offices and institutions and high-intensity discharge lamps such as mercury vapor, metal halide, high pressure sodium and neon lamps are commonly used by farms, businesses and cities.

A 40-watt, four-foot long tube contains 27 to 40 milligrams (mg) of elemental mercury. The amount of mercury in a lamp is roughly proportional to its length with older lamps containing much higher amounts. High-intensity discharge lamps may contain between 13 and 250 mg of mercury per lamp.

Fluorescents are significantly more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs because they require less energy to provide lighting. CFLs are also more cost effective because they last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Use of fluorescent lamps is expected to increase. Some manufacturers are now producing more energy efficient lamps with less mercury.

Please see the department’s fact sheet Fluorescent Lamps (pub24) for more information.

Management Options

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources recommends recycling in lieu of disposal. Please note that a trash hauler has the right to refuse any waste for disposal.  If your community has a local household hazardous waste collection program, a Universal Waste handler or a certified recycler that will accept lamps, the department encourages you to send your lamps to such a facility to better protect the environment. Call first to assure that the lamps will be accepted.

Some retail stores that sell fluorescent lamps have started accepting them for recycling.  Check with your local retailer about this option.  You also may be able to take the lamps to a Household Hazardous Waste collection center or event.  If there is a permanent facility or collection event scheduled in your area, contact them about recycling fluorescent lamps.

You can find a list of facilities and events on the department’s Web site at http://www.dnr.mo.gov/env/swmp/hhw/hhw.htm  or by directly contacting your local Solid Waste Management District. 

Universal waste
Households and farmers that generate waste lamps have the option of handling the lamps
as universal waste by complying with the Universal Waste Rule (UWR). You can learn more about this option in department’s fact sheet Fluorescent Lamps (pub24).

It is currently legal for households and farmers to dispose of fluorescent lamps with their household trash for disposal in one of Missouri’s sanitary landfills. The department recommends that the lamps be sealed in a zipper type plastic bag before being disposed. The amount of mercury contained in each lamp is very small, approximately five milligrams or about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.  However, there is a potential for exposure to mercury if the bulb breaks during handling.

To limit breakage and mercury inhalation, you may put old lamps into the boxes that the replacement lamps came in for transport to the lamp recycler or collection center.

If you dispose of a lamp in the trash, place it into the box that the replacement lamp came in. Put this in a plastic bag and secure it at the top for pickup by your trash hauler. If no box is available, use a heavy plastic bag secured at the top. These precautions will help to limit the potential for immediate breakage and inhalation hazards for you and the trash hauler.

What do I do if I accidentally break a fluorescent lamp?

General Guidance

For More Information
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Hazardous Waste Program
Compliance and Enforcement Unit
P.O. Box 176, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0176
800-361-4827 or 573-751-2032

Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Solid Waste Management Program
P.O. Box 176, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0176
800-361-4827 or 573-751-5401