"It's The Law!"
Many facility managers want to know how light bulb and electronics recycling effects them. Throwing away your light bulbs and electronics can be quite tempting. Not only is trashing light bulbs illegal, but it also carries environmental and financial risks. Trashing these bulbs releases mercury and other harmful chemicals into the environment. Because of these risks, the EPA has handed out hefty fines to those who chose this option.
In August of 2009, the U.S. EPA fined New York City $50,000 for violating environmental regulations, including improper disposal of mercury containing lamps. The city was also required to launch a $300,000 recycling program [Source: Waste & Recycling News].
Simply throwing the bulbs out is a tempting option. Under budgetary constraints, it can be difficult to see the point of recycling. Trashing lamps costs nothing upfront and requires virtually no labor, giving it a short-term advantage over lamp recycling. But throwing away lamps carries other financial, environmental, and public relations risks which often outweigh the comparatively small fee for recycling over the long run.
In most of the U.S., throwing away fluorescent lamps is a violation of state and federal environmental regulations. Government officials regularly audit and investigate facility compliance and, if violations are found, issue citations for fines ranging from the tens to the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Regulations requiring fluorescent lamp recycling are enforced for a reason. The mercury contained in every fluorescent lamp is potently toxic: just one gram is capable of polluting a 20-acre lake for an entire year. Once polluted, a mercury-tainted environment can contaminate wildlife, including human food sources such as fish. All told, about 650 million mercury-containing lamps burn out each year, creating a major potential for mercury contamination if lamps are not recycled.