Most lamps contain heavy metals such as mercury and metalloids such as arsenic. The most dangerous heavy metal is mercury. Mercury is highly toxic to humans, fauna and flora. Mercury has the capability to accumulate in organisms (Bioaccumulation).
When the lamp breaks, the mercury either in vapour form or elemental form can escape and be a threat to the handler or the surrounding environment. Metallic mercury (Hg) is an odourless and silver coloured fluid. It is the only metal which is liquid at room temperature. It is important to know and remember that mercury vaporises at room temperature.
This also applies for mercury which is blended with fluorescent powder or amalgamated to glass and/or metals. Mercury is insoluble in water, it easily forms amalgams with other metals and it cannot be broken down to less toxic substances in the environment.
Mercury can pollute both the air (in vapour form) and water if allowed to come into contact with surface or ground water Nevertheless, mercury can be used and handled safely and provided that the exposure of your handler is kept within the threshold limit values (50nmol/l blood), then there is unlikely to be any negative health effects. In severe cases of contamination or exposure special caution must be taken and correct clean-up and health measures must be taken.
Mercury is a neurotoxin and is odourless and can be inhaled without being aware of it, and health and safety precautions must be taken to avoid exposure to the handler and the environment.
Lamp localisation in appliances and IT Equipment
Lamps can be found in various appliances and IT equipment, for example lighting in ovens, fridges, laptops, printers etc.
This equipment must be de-polluted when dismantling and the lamps must be safely stored and sent to a certified and competent lamp treatment facility.
Storage and Transportation
All lamps that are stored until enough volume is obtained for transportation must be stored in safe and strong containers or boxes on site. The storage area must be inside or under cover with protection from the elements and preferably lockable. Long term storage of lamps must not exceed 90 days. Containers must be labelled showing that they contain hazardous lighting waste together with the UN code.
When transporting the lamps to the specialized facility transport requirements need to be taken into account including the proper labelling of the waste as well as notification procedures.
Processing Lighting Waste
All lighting waste can be recycled. Lighting waste must NOT be manually dismantled prior to the treatment process as it is dangerous.
Lighting waste can only be processed in specialised lamp treatment facilities. These facilities are technically competent and legally compliant. The treatment equipment has strict technical operating standards and removes all the hazardous components through crushing and separation. The mercury is removed and separated safely, with no exposure to operators.
Fractions separated in the processing plant
The following fractions are recovered from lamps:
* Electronics (Ballasts, starters, circuit boards, wiring, LED Diodes)
* Ferrous metals
* Non-ferrous metals
* Phosphor powder
* Mercury (elemental through separate distillation process or captured in activated carbon from vapour form)
These recovered fractions can be further processed at downstream treatment facilities and recyclers.
The commercial value recovered from the recycled fractions is low and does not cover the total operational and administrative costs of the specialized lamp recycling facility. Therefore, a recycling cost will always apply. Lamps are termed as a negative waste stream. However, the environmental value recovered is high.