Disposing of Lamps

July 2002


Disposal of hazardous waste lamps

Under Federal rules, most mercury and lead containing lamps will fail the TCLP (toxicity characteristic leaching procedure) test and will therefore be classified as hazardous waste. Certain commercial lighting lamp types from various manufacturers are designed to pass the TCLP test and are therefore classified as non-hazardous waste under Federal rules only. Sunlamps contain small amounts of mercury and are not designed to pass the TCLP test.

Federal EPA includes TCLP-failing lamps in the Universal Waste Rule that became effective on January 6, 2000. The impact of this rule is that it may be slightly less expensive to dispose of lamps as Universal Waste than as Hazardous Waste, because certain storage, transportation and record-keeping requirements may be reduced or eliminated. Under Federal rules, certain classes of users are exempt from the requirements of the Universal Waste Rules.

The majority of states have not waited for EPA to act and have already included TCLP-failing lamps in their own versions of the Universal Waste Rule so that the impact of the Federal rule will be minimal. Unfortunately, each state is free to interpret the Universal Waste Rule as they see fit, provided it is no less stringent than the Federal rule. ("Universal" means a widely distributed waste, and not that there is one uniform rule throughout the U.S.)

For example:

  • Not all states allow exemptions for households
  • Not all states allow small quantity generator (user) exemptions
  • Some states allow lamps to be crushed prior to disposal
  • Some states allow lamps to be treated in some way by the generator prior to landfilling
  • Some states classify wastes using methods other than TCLP and/or require all lamps to be recycled whether or not they test hazardous

It is therefore important that generators (users like tanning salons) should contact their State or local environmental regulatory agency and obtain the current requirements for lamp disposal for themselves.


Federal rules for handling and disposal of Hazardous Waste lamps:

  • Q. 1. How will EPA regulate the handling and disposal of Hazardous Waste lamps?

    A. Hazardous Waste lamps will be regulated under the Federal Universal Waste Rule. The Rule was originally developed to regulate the disposal of other widely generated wastes that contain toxic materials, such as batteries and pesticides.

  • Q. 2. Where does the Federal Rule for Hazardous Waste lamps apply?

    A. The Rule will apply only in certain states that do not run their own comprehensive hazardous waste programs. For details, including regulating agencies in each state, see Q.7. below. The Rule became effective as of January 6, 2000.

  • Q. 3. What are the rules for the disposal of lamps in other states?

    A. Many states have not waited for EPA and have already incorporated lamps into their own versions of the Universal Waste Rule; several other states have interim policies which are similar to the Rule; a few states have more stringent regulations, such as Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota and Vermont.

  • Q. 4. What impact does the Universal Waste Rule have on lamp disposal?

    A. This can only be answered in general terms because each state has adopted its own version of the Rule, but generally:
    • The Rule applies only to lamps that fail the Federal TCLP test that is used to determine if a waste is hazardous. Sunlamps are not designed to pass this test.
    • The Rule does not apply to households.
    • The Rule does not apply to those users (small waste generators) who generate less than 220 lbs. of hazardous waste per month. Assuming no other hazardous waste is generated, this allows approximately 225 six-foot TCLP-failing sunlamps per month to be disposed as a non-hazardous waste.
    • Users who generate more than 220 lbs. of hazardous waste per month are subject to the Rule. Any lamps that are handled as universal waste are excluded from the totals for other hazardous waste.

  • Q. 5. Does the Rule ban certain methods of disposal?

    A. Not if you are a user (generator) that is exempt, i.e. a household or small waste generator as defined above. Exempt users may continue to dispose of any lamps as non-hazardous waste unless your State or local regulations disallow your exemption, or restrict certain types of disposal. However, it is not recommended that any mercury or lead-containing lamps be placed in any waste stream that is likely to be burned in incinerators without emission controls.

  • Q. 6. What are the requirements for large waste generators?

    A. Generally, if lamps are handled as universal wastes, there are less burdensome regulations for the record keeping, storage and transportation than if the lamps are handled as ordinary hazardous waste. Again, the exact requirements vary from state to state.

  • Q. 7. Where can I find out about the regulations that apply to me in my state?

    A. An excellent source is the web site for NEMA's (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) web site at: www.nema.org/lamprecycle Check out the State Lamp Recycling Contact Information page. This lists the environmental regulatory agency in your state, and their specific regulations. Various names for the responsible agencies are used from state to state. You may also check Government listings in the phone book under environmental protection, environmental quality, environmental health.

  • Q. 8. Does the lamp manufacturer or distributor have the responsibility of helping me manage spent lamps?

    A. Under Federal law, the user (generator) has primary responsibility for correctly managing hazardous wastes.

Summary of Lamp Disposal Options

Caution: May be subject to overriding State or local regulations

Lamp Status
Conditionally exempt small generators* Small non-exempt+ or large generators++
Fails TCLP
Not generally restricted Not generally restricted Recycle, or handle as Universal or Hazardous waste
Passes TCLP
Not generally restricted Not generally restricted Not generally restricted
* Disposes of less than 220 lbs. of hazardous waste per month
+ Disposes of more than 220 lbs. of hazardous waste per month
++ Disposes of more than 2200 lbs. of hazardous waste per month

Conclusion: Learn the local or State regulations where you operate.

Know that local or State regulations can be changed at anytime.

The Federal Rule does not apply to small generators (about 225 lamps/mo.)