Most people are not aware that energy efficient lighting, such as fluorescent lights and compact fluorescent lamps, contains mercury. Often, the amount of mercury contained in these lights is enough to warrant that they be handled as a hazardous waste at the end-of-life.
Despite the presence of mercury, use of these lamps is an environmentally sound practice. Mercury-containing lamps are used primarily for their energy efficient properties; improving energy efficiency by nearly 50% compared to other lamps. The use of mercury-containing lamps reduces the need for coal, oil and gas burned in power plants, as well as the reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases and other air and water pollutants. Mercury lighting is three to four times more efficient than non-mercury lamps, such as older incandescent technology. So, mercury use in lighting actually reduces greenhouse gas emissions and overall mercury pollution from fossil fuel burning. Most energy-efficient lighting contains mercury.
Currently, only about 23% of spent mercury-containing lighting is recycled in the United States; the remaining 80% is either handled as a hazardous waste or finds its way into municipal solid waste (MSW). 1 The Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers (ALMR), the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), and the Solid Waste Association of North
America (SWAN A) are working with EPA to increase the recycling rate through the Lamp Recycling Outreach Project (LROP). The objective of the LROP is to get enough information to
the right people so that mercury-containing lamp recycling increases from 20% to 40% within two years. That recycling goal will increase to 50% to 60% within four years. The ultimate goal is a nationally sustainable lamp-recycling rate of 70% to 80% in seven years. To accomplish these objectives there needs to be a behavior change from disposal to recycling.