recycling: Shedding Light On Improper Lamp Disposal

Although mercury standards have long been a part of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the regulated community has only recently focused its attention on fluorescent light bulbs' disposal requirements in connection with those standards.

However, due primarily to its present initiative for energy conservation through energy-efficient lighting, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) has proposed softening these standards.

With the exception of residential hazardous waste generators, everyone - from the smallest business to the largest, including hospitals, malls and universities - must comply with both state and federal hazardous waste regulations. Under RCRA, all businesses disposing of fluorescent and HID lamps must determine if their lamps are hazardous waste by testing for mercury content using EPA's Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (costing approximately $150 per lamp) or using information from the bulb's manufacturer. Additionally, businesses can consult EPA's Analytical Results of Mercury Fluorescent Lamps.

Generally, the range of applicable regulations is tied to how much waste a generator produces. Large-quantity generators - those producing more than 1,000 kilograms (kg) per month - must comply with all RCRA provisions, such as record keeping, labeling and disposal time limits. Meanwhile, small-quantity generators also must comply, but can use simpler recordkeeping.

If generators are producing 100 kgs or less of hazardous waste per month, they may be "conditionally exempt" from some federal and state regulations. In this case, generators do not have to comply with RCRA's identification, storage, treatment and disposal regulations. Also, if fluorescent light bulbs are the only hazardous waste produced, a generator likely would be "conditionally exempt" if it disposes of fewer than 300 four-foot T12 fluorescent lamps or 400 four-foot T8 fluorescent lamps per month.

The exemption is determined by the amount of all hazardous waste generated, not just the light bulbs. In fact, the entire lamp's weight, not just the mercury, is included to calculate this quantity. However, even "conditionally exempt" small-quantity generators can be held responsible for Superfund liability for hazardous wastes disposal at a landfill which is later designated as a Superfund site.

Your company has options in dealing with fluorescent light bulbs waste. RCRA regulations allow both the disposal and/or recycling of fluorescent lamps. Each company must tailor its policy, weighing the disposal costs and liability risks. Disposal costs for fluorescent light bulbs can vary considerably depending on the quantity of waste generated, the disposal site's location, the proximity to a permitted hazardous waste landfill and state and local taxes.

Similarly, recycling costs typically are calculated by linear foot - the average cost being 10c. Some utilities, such as Arizona Public Service and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., have modified their rebate programs to include an allowance for lamps' proper disposal.

More utilities are expected to follow this route because of their potential to be implicated in Superfund liability.

For more information, contact Tricia A. Haught, Day, Berry & Howard, City Place One, Hartford, Conn. 06103. (860) 275-0536.

Plastics Recycling Grows, But Not Enough WASHINGTON, D.C. - Figures recently released by the American Plastics Council (APC), Washington, D.C., show that plastic bottle recovery increased from 1,272 million pounds in 1995 to 1,307 million pounds in 1996. PET and HDPE resins account for most of these pounds.

While encouraged by the numbers, the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR), Washington, D.C., says that the country could be recycling more. The APC report reveals that although 656 million pounds of HDPE was collected last year, current capacity can process almost twice as much. Greater PET recycling capacity also is available, even with the 631 million pounds of PET collected in 1996.

"Most plastic recyclers cannot get enough material to keep their plants running at capacity," says Gerry Claes, general manager of Graham Recycling Co., York, Penn. "A few years ago, the problem was finding end markets. Today, there is plenty of demand for recycled plastic, but not enough is being collected."

APR is urging more communities to collect plastic and those communities that currently are collecting plastic to expand their acceptable bottle menu.

For example, two-liter bottles have been a major source of recycled PET, but a wider variety of bottles now is available, such as single-serve juice and soft drink bottles as well as multi-serve juice bottles.

"Every one of these bottles can and should be recycled, " says APR Chairman Dennis Sabourin from Wellman Inc., Shrewsbury, N.J.

For more information, contact Robin Cotchan, Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers, 1801 K St., N.W., Suite 701-L, Washington, D.C. 20006. (202) 974-5419. Fax: (202) 296-7154.