Recycling fluorescent lamps is required by law, thanks to regulations that have been put in place in all 50 states, as well as on a national level. What people may not know is what happens to those lamps after recycling companies (like Everlights) receive them. It’s a fairly simple process that can be explained in 4 easy steps.
Lamps are Sent to Recycling Facilities
The first step in the lamp recycling process is finding a facility that will accept your lamps. With the rise in fluorescent lamp use and production, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a lamp recycling company in your area. Always be sure to select a company that abides by all regulations and does not send anything overseas.
Crush and Separation
The next step, after lamps are sent to the recycling company, is the crushing and separation of the lamps. Facilities use a dry-processing system where lamps are mechanically crushed and sorted into their separate components. During this process, the lamps undergo an initial breakage once they arrive at the recycling facility. This is followed by further crushing in rotating drums*. The crushed components of the lamp are then sent to a trommel system. The trommel system separates the components, mercury and phosphorous, from the glass and aluminum.
The glass is then sampled and analyzed for any leftover mercury and sent for recycling. When recycled, glass does not lose any of its durability or quality, and can easily be reused. The aluminum end caps are also separated to be reused.
The ferrous portion of the lamps, the filaments, are then removed by a magnetic separator. These filaments, along with the mercury and phosphorous that are extracted from the lamps, are all sent off for retort.
The process of retorting involves heating the mercury powder to a very high temperature. With the application of heat, the mercury vaporizes free from the powder. The vaporized mercury is then condensed back into a liquid. The liquid mercury is stored in a sealed container and distilled to remove impurities and produce pure, or as close to pure as possible, mercury.
Components are Ready to be Reused
Once the recycling process is completed, each of the components of the original lamp can be sent off to be reused. Since glass is so durable, the United States requires all newly manufactured glass products to use at least 35% recycled glass. Many manufacturers, such as lighting manufacturers, will purchase the recycled mercury to use in new products. This helps prevent contamination and reduces the need for new mercury. The recycled aluminum is also used in a variety of products, including new end caps for lamps.
If you’re not sure where you can take your fluorescent lamps, you can search Earth911 for facilities near you. People who live or work in Chicago, or nearby towns, can drop off their lamps and other universal waste at EverLights Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.
*Everlights does not promote the use of drum-top crushers at your own facility. They should be used only by professionals at a licensed recycling facility.