recycling: Recycling Lightens Mercury's Load

A little is all it takes to cause major contamination - at least in the case of mercury waste. In fact, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), just a half teaspoon of mercury can pollute an 18-square-mile lake.

As a result, mercury waste disposal is under close scrutiny by federal and state hazardous waste regulators. And one source of mercury waste, fluorescent lamps, is no exception, particularly because of its recycling potential.

Approximately one-half billion fluorescent lamps are discarded annually nationwide. Globally, the 50 tons of mercury used in fluorescent lamps represent only about 0.3 percent of all the mercury released on the planet. But whether or not fluorescent tubes are a major environmental hazard, much is being done "just in case."

In addition to federal hazardous waste regulations, several states have passed their own regulations on discarded lamps. And in states such as California, Illinois, Florida and Minnesota, these rules are even more stringent than their federal counterparts.

Also, new non-mercury lights such as Fusion Lighting's Solar 1000 sulfur lamp or long-life lamps like the 100,000-hour Philips' QL induction lamp help reduce the disposal problem.

The majority of fluorescent lamps use one-fourth to one-third as much energy as incandescent lights and will last approximately 20,000 hours. Typically, they consist of a glass tube coated on the inside with a phosphorous material and with cathodes in the aluminum end caps.

Inside is a small amount of mercury of which a smaller quantity is vaporized. The mercury vapor emits ultraviolet energy when electric current passes though the tube from cathode to cathode. The ultra violet energy passes through the phosphor coating causing the tube to glow. The hazards arise when these lamps are broken during disposal.

Mercury is not the only hazardous material in fluorescent lamps. Until 1979, ballasts contained polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a carcinogenic material and a probable cause of liver damage, skin irritations and reproductive and developmental defects.

One of the several liquid dielectric fluids used to replace PCBs in ballast capacitors after 1979 was di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP). Unfortunately, DEHP also is a probable carcinogen and considered to be a hazardous substance.

After 1985, DEHP was no longer used in ballasts in four-foot fluorescent lamps, but used in ballasts for eight-foot lamps and high-intensity discharge lamps until 1991.

Considering the long life of fluorescent tubes - up to 25 years - ballasts being discarded today are likely to contain PCBs as well as DEHP.

Several options for handling discarded fluorescent lamps and ballasts exist. For example, if a sample lot passes a private lab's Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) test, the tubes can be disposed of as non-hazardous wastes. Those that fail the test, on the other hand, must be sent to a hazardous waste landfill. This is not inexpensive, though - as much as $1 a lamp can be charged depending on the volume and the transport distance involved.

An alternative solution is to recycle and recover the mercury and ballasts. Some companies already are recycling these to prevent future lawsuits since the disposer may become liable if landfill cleanup becomes necessary.

Also, recycling lights is less expensive than either incineration or disposal in a hazardous waste landfill - approximately 30c to 50c for a typical 48-inch fluorescent tube.

Recycling mercury from used lights accounts for only about 5 percent of the fluorescent lamps discarded currently. However, recycling the 500 to 600 million spent lamps annually could recover 34 tons of mercury, 160,000 tons of glass and 3,000 tons of aluminum, according to the Coalition of Lamp Recyclers, Montpelier, Vt.

The recovered phosphorous can be used in tombstones and birdbaths and the recovered mercury can be, among other things, used to make new lamps.

For more information, refer to the EPA Green Light Program's Lighting Upgrade Manual. The manual can be ordered through EPA, 401 M St., S.W. (6202J), Washington, D.C. 20460. (202) 775-6650. Fax: (202) 775-6680. URL: www.epa.gov/dccs/GCDOAR/ waste.html.LS1

Award The Long Island Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers has presented its 1997 Quality of Life Award to the town of North Hempstead for its newly completed, 1,200 tons-per-day solid waste transfer facility. The new complex features a two-lane drive through tunnel and provides for C&D, yard waste and curbside collected recyclabes transfer operations.

Consolidation Superior Services, West Allis, Wis., has merged its former Lake and Northwest Regions to create the Midwest Region. in an effort to streamline the company. The newly created region will be managed by Gary Blacktopp and includes Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri .

Contracts Waste Management Inc. (Oak Brook, Ill.) has been awarded a three-year contract to transfer and dispose of 1,750 tons per day of municipal residential waste from the Borough of the Bronx in New York City.

Denver-based Geraghty & Miller Inc., an international environmental and infrastructure firm, has been awarded a contract to provide environmental engineering services including remediation services, compliance monitoring and engineering design.for U.S. Coast Guard facilities I

Fiscal American Disposal Services Inc. (Burr Ridge, Ill.) has closed on a larger credit facility with its bank group increasing the committed amount from $125 million to $200 million. The amended facility will reduce the company's borrowing costs and increase its financial flexibility.

Grant The Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance has awarded the City of Hutchinson, Minn., $100,000 to implement its plan to convert the existing NaturTech (St. Cloud, Minn.) containerized composting system from processing wastewater treatment biosolids to treating source separated organics from businesses, schools and residents.

New Distributor Hi-Rise Recycling Systems Inc. (New York City) has signed an agreement with Ecolo Odor Control Systems (Ontario, Canada) for the right to private label its odor control dispensing system in multistory buildings as Wilkinson Odor Control in the United States.

People Presona Inc. (Waco, Texas), a manufacturer of single-ram balers, has named Michael W. Lockman as its new president. Lockman will manage all aspects of the company's U.S. operations.

PASADENA, CALIF. - Four Northern California communities soon will be putting their waste tires back to work - not on the road, but in the road.

In late June, the California Integrated Waste Management Board, Sacramento, announced funding for four road and trail paving projects that will use a mixture of waste tire rubber and asphalt concrete.

According to the Board, the projects will use tire rubber at a rate of 20 to 30 pounds per ton of asphalt concrete.

The Board hopes that the four grants, totaling $180,000, will help toward its goal of diverting 75 percent of the approximate 3 million waste tires generated annually by the state.

The public works departments in the cities of Richmond and Sacramento will receive $40,000 each, while Sacramento County's Regional Parks, Recreation and Open Space Department and the city/county of San Francisco's Public Works Department will receive $50,000 each.

Funding for the grants came from the Tire Recycling Management Fee, a 25c charge that consumers pay on a new tire purchase.

Contracts Waste Management Inc., Oak Brook, Ill., has been awarded a three-year contract to transfer and dispose of 1,750 tons per day of municipal residential waste from the Borough of the Bronx in New York City.

Denver-based Geraghty & Miller Inc. has been awarded a contract to provide and conduct environmental engineering investigation and remediation services for U.S. Coast Guard facilities

Fiscal American Disposal Services Inc., Burr Ridge, Ill., has closed on a larger credit facility with its bank group increasing the committed amount from $125 million to $200 million.

The amended facility will reduce the company's borrowing costs and increase its financial flexibility.

Grant The Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance has awarded the City of Hutchinson, Minn., $100,000 to implement its plan to convert the existing NaturTech (St. Cloud, Minn.) containerized composting system from processing wastewater treatment biosolids to treating source separated organics from businesses, schools and residents.

New Distributor Hi-Rise Recycling Systems Inc. (New York City) has signed an agreement with Ecolo Odor Control Systems (Ontario, Canada) for the right to private label its odor control dispensing system in multistory buildings as Wilkinson Odor Control in the United States.

People Presona Inc. (Waco, Texas), a manufacturer of single-ram balers, has named Michael W. Lockman as its new president. Lockman will manage all aspects of the company's U.S. operations.