Mercury-containing Light Bulbs/Lamps

Reducing the release of mercury into the environment—RCW 70.275 passed the Washington State Legislature in 2010. It establishes a producer-financed product stewardship program for the collection, recycling, and disposal of mercury-containing lights.  Producers of Compact Fluorescent (CFL) lights must participate in and fully implement a product stewardship program by January 1, 2013.  Beginning in 2013, no CFLs may be placed into the garbage.  Ecology's Waste 2 Resources office is working with producers to implement this mercury-containing lights product stewardship program. The bill also prohibits the sale of bulk mercury by June 30, 2012.

Chapter 70.95M RCW—Mercury is Washington's mercury-reduction law.

All fluorescent lamps and certain other types of light bulbs contain mercury, and fluorescent lamps are the most common type of indoor light source for commercial and public buildings.  Mercury-containing bulbs and tubes are safe in use. However, keep the mercury contained—use carefully, and recycle when spent. Energy efficiency is key to using less from mercury-emitting power sources and to protecting our climate.

Recognizing Mercury-containing Light Bulbs Scroll to learn which light bulbs/ lamps may have mercury.

Manage Light Bulbs/ Lamps as Universal Waste is a focus sheet with information for businesses on how to handle mercury-containing lamps.

Routes of Mercury Exposure Scroll to learn how the mercury in light bulbs/ lamps might effect you

Light Bulb/ Lamp Recycling Scroll to learn about how to recycle mercury-containing light bulbs/ lamps.

How to Build a Bulb Carrier Save your bulbs safely until your next trip to the recycler. Make your own bulb carrier from a reused six-pack beverage carrier. Download a label.

Bulb Clean-up gives you the steps to cleaning up a broken mercury-containing bulb.

If You Break a Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb  Clean carefully. Download this pdf and post.  Keep it handy.

Recognizing Mercury-containing Light Bulbscfl

Since January 1, 2004, Mercury Education and Reduction Act (MERA), requires a mercury warning label on the lamp itself and on the packaging of any mercury-containing lamps sold in Washington State.

All lamps and all lamp packaging must clearly display the internationally recognized symbol for the element mercury (Hg).  hg

The packaging must also clearly inform the purchaser:

  1. Mercury is present in the item
  2. The item must be disposed of at a recycling facility or drop off area according to state and local laws
  3. The provided toll-free telephone number, as well as the listed internet address contains information on applicable disposal laws.

Fluorescent lamps — Labeling requirements, at RCW 70.95M.020 contains the precise requirements.

Bulbs that contain mercury

For a detailed description on types of mercury-containing lamps and amount of mercury in them, go to the fact sheet titled “Mercury Use in Lighting,” from the Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse.

Note that while low-mercury (or "green") lamps may contain less mercury, they still do contain mercury and should be recycled to protect the environment.

Routes of Exposure

Mercury-containing light bulbs are safe through normal use. However, it is very important to keep the mercury contained inside them.  Use them carefully, and recycle properly. 

Fluorescents may be a transitional technology as other energy-efficient lighting becomes more available. Light Emitting Diodes, called LEDs, for instance, use no mercury, need only a tiny amount of energy, and last almost indefinitely. As more people invest in new technology, prices should come down.

Meanwhile, Ecology estimates that approximately 10 million lamps are disposed of to the trash yearly in Washington, amounting to some 400 to 500 pounds of toxic mercury released to the environment and accumulated in landfills. Two out of ten bulbs are now being recycled.  See Light Bulb/ Lamp Recycling for more.

Bulb Clean-up gives you the steps to cleaning up a broken mercury-containing bulb.

If You Break a Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb Post the seven steps to cleaning up a broken mercury-containing bulb somewhere where you will have it handy. 

How to Build a Bulb Carrier Save your bulbs safely until your next trip to the recycler. Make your own bulb carrier from a reused six-pack beverage carrier. Download a label.

Light Bulb/ Lamp Recyclinghalide

Residents of Washington state call 1-800-RECYCLE or see click the link for locations. (When using the 1-800-Recycle pull-down menu, select "Household Hazardous Waste" as "Recyclable Material Category." Then select "Fluorescent Lights" as "Specific Material Type".) Only the City of Shoreline currently has curbside recycling of fluorescent bulbs in Washington.

How to Build a Bulb Carrier Save your bulbs safely until your next trip to the recycler. Make your own bulb carrier from a reused six-pack beverage carrier. Download a label.

Regulated businesses should see the Hazardous Waste Service Providers Directory and Mercury Laws and Rules—Universal Waste Rules to learn about special rules that facilitate recycling of certain mercury-containing products, including mercury-containing lamps.

Related information

Chapter 70.95M RCW—Mercury is Washington's main mercury law, enacted by MERA.

Health effects of mercury – Department of Health provides information on mercury and health.

The Environmental Protection Agency describes efforts towards increasing nation-wide lamp recycling. 

Lamprecycle.org provides detailed information about lamp recycling, sponsored by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association to encourage the recycling of spent mercury-containing lamps. 

Seattle City Light provides information about recycling compact fluorescent lamps

NEWMOA, an interstate association of eight northeastern states provides an excellent resource on recycling lamps.

Universal Waste Rule for DW lamps is an Ecology publication that describes the Universal Waste Rule as it applies to mercury-containing light bulbs and tubes.