28 Feb Recycling of Fluorescent Tubes
Fluorescent tubes may not seem like they’re much of a risk to the environment, and disposal is a simple affair; throw them in the skip or general waste, right? Well no, due to recent legislation, the disposing of CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs) and tubes using common disposal services such as general waste, skips, non-specific disposal sections of recycling centres and more, is illegal.
This is due to the tubes containing mercury, which is a highly toxic substance that can cause enormous environmental damage and is a danger to your health.
Environmental Impacts – Landfill and Atmosphere:
Over 100 million fluorescent and highway bulbs are disposed of each year in the UK, and until recently these have ended up in landfill sites. This causes the mercury contained within the tubes to contaminate the land and dissipate into the atmosphere. The mercury then poisons the rain, which contaminates water supplies. It only takes one tube to make 30,000 litres of water unsuitable for drinking. Yes, that’s thirty thousand litres from just one tube!
While it may be in small doses, the mercury can build up in the system as the body struggles to get rid of it. There are a huge number of harmful side-effects to having excess mercury in your system. Due to much of the waste at landfill ending up being incinerated, mercury is released into the atmosphere rapidly. This is known as elemental and vaporised mercury. In serious cases of mercury exposure, the effects are much more dramatic. They include; kidney malfunction, respiratory failure, and eventually death.
If ingested, known as organic mercury poisoning, from contaminated food supplies grown anywhere near landfill, the symptoms manifest differently. Some of which include:
Organic mercury poisoning can seriously affect foetal growth and development in pregnant women. Studies have shown that mercury inhibits brain growth and development. Developmental impairments such as reduced ability in thinking, attention span, memory, and most motor skills occurred in various degrees, often severe, even if the mother developed few if any symptoms.
Inorganic poisoning is caused by mercury being directly ingested via contaminated water sources. The symptoms include skin rashes and inflammation when in contact with skin. When the contaminated water is ingested, the effects are much more serious, including; bloody diarrhoea, mental changes, memory loss, renal failure, muscle weakness and more.
With so many harmful effects from mercury, it’s always wise to take a little more time to make sure your fluorescent bulbs and tubes are disposed of properly. CPP Ltd is able to provide bespoke multi-use boxes, each one able to accommodate up to 100 tubes that can be used for responsible disposal.
How Can You Correctly Dispose of Fluorescent Tubes?
To avoid any of the aforementioned effects happening, it’s necessary to ensure the tubes aren’t placed in general waste or recycling. Due to specific recycling methods they must be disposed of using specific recycling services, and using CPP Ltd multi-use boxes makes this much simpler.
We understand that large businesses and commercial entities will use a lot of tubes and disposing of them all correctly can be time-consuming, but the environmental rewards speak for themselves. Recycling services are usually free locally for small businesses and households, but for large-scale operations a service provider will be required.
Before a recycling service will accept any tubes, they must be placed in a box suitable for transport or taped together in bundles. It’s recommended to not use tape for multiple reasons; tubes are fragile and easily break. Tape is hard to remove once applied (unless using electrical tape or masking tape) and bundles make transportation more difficult.
Our bespoke boxes ensure the tubes are safely packaged and transported, and that your batch of tubes won’t be rejected by the recycling company. Our containers also make for easy storage before the next collection is due, reducing the risk of breakage and therefore increasing safety.
If a fluorescent tube is broken in an enclosed area, the mercury can be released into the air. To minimise the number of exposed people, the room should be evacuated with all heating and air-conditioning deactivated in said room. This prevents potential toxins spreading from room to room. Windows should be opened to allow clean air to detoxify the room.
The fragments of the broken tubes should be collected carefully, using stiff paper or cardboard. Do not use a dustpan and brush, especially on carpet, as the brush’s bristles can throw fragments and toxic particles into the air. Sticky tape is an effective way of removing smaller particles after the larger fragments have been collected.
What Happens to Responsibly Recycled Lamps?
The recycled tubes are taken to a licenced facility and removed from the CPP Ltd multi-use containers. The tubes are fed into a purpose built machine which isolates the tubes and then reduces the air pressure substantially inside the containment. This prevents the phosphor powder, which contains the mercury, from escaping into the atmosphere.
The next process is by-product separation. This is achieved using a complex system of air transportation, whereby the phosphor powder is separated in different steps from the glass and metal by-products in the tubes. The clean glass is stored, and aluminium end caps are separated out for reuse later. The phosphor powder is then isolated and collected in distiller barrels, ready for mercury extraction.
A process called thermal retortion allows the mercury to be extracted from the powder, usually a process taking one hour at roughly 800 degrees centigrade. Different treatment conditions can be used depending on the requirements of further handling options and cost considerations. Treatment at 400°C and above allowed to decrease the leachable Hg contents to below the regulations.