The Terrible Ten

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers 25,081 total current, “significant” hazardous waste violations as of August 28, 2018 across the country. These are the ten states with the most violations registered last week.

A list of the ten U.S. states with the highest number of  significant hazardous waste violations

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registers 25,081 total current, “significant” hazardous waste violations as of August 28, 2018 across the country.  Significant violations can range from improper temporary storage of hazardous waste, transporting hazardous waste without a permit, illegal dumping/disposal of hazardous waste, to name a few.  Penalties can include jail time and fines in the tens of thousands of dollars.  Violators include businesses, colleges and universities, hospitals, government operations and any other non-residential waste generators.

Improper disposal of lamps

The ten states with the greatest number of current, “significant” hazardous waste violations are (totals as of Sept. 28):

10.  Alabama     680

9.  Pennsylvania     685

8.  Kentucky     765

7.  Maryland     872

6.  Louisiana     1607

5.  Texas     1733

4.  Missouri     1804

3.  Washington     2068

2.  Ohio     2244

 1.  West Virginia     3308

The ten states with the greatest number of total current hazardous waste violations are:

10.       Illinois     3235

9.         Pennsylvania     3344

8.         Ohio     3574

7.         New York     3813

6.         Louisiana     4165

5.         California     4399

4.         Washington     4707

3.         Missouri     4732

2.         Texas     4912

1.         West Virginia     5270

The EPA defines hazardous waste as a waste with properties that make it dangerous or capable of having a harmful effect on human health or the environment.  And though there are many industrial waste products that fall into this category, there are a large number of “everyday” materials that are hazardous, too.  Burned-out fluorescent bulbs, batteries (alkaline and rechargeable), lighting ballasts and thermostats are some of the common items that are also considered hazardous waste.  TerraCycle’s Regulated Waste division offers options for the safe recycling and disposal of fluorescent bulbs, batteries, ballasts, medical sharps to keep businesses of every size EPA-compliant.

And in case you were wondering, the Top Ten states with the least number of significant EPA hazardous waste violations this week are:

10.       Kansas     81

9.         Rhode Island     73

8.         Maine     62

7.         Florida     60

6.         Arizona     59

5.         Vermont     53

4.         South Dakota     51

3.         Nevada      40

2.         Minnesota      39

1.         Delaware     23

The EPA reports that one out of every ten hazardous waste violations is related to the mismanagement of universal waste like batteries, mercury-containing components and lamps.  Unmarked or improperly marked universal waste containment and improper universal waste storage are two of the three most common violations.  Utilizing an EasyPak container for smaller quantities or a BulbEater 3® for larger quantities can prevent storage issues.

Household Mercury can be a Danger to Many Families

fluorescent bulb waste
Properly dispose of old lamps to prevent breakage
Compact fluorescent bulbs are the one of most inexpensive and environmentally-sound lighting options for consumers. Fluorescent bulbs are more efficient than traditional, incandescent light bulbs because they utilize less energy and last longer than comparable incandescents. While LED bulbs have decreased in price, making them a more viable option for homeowners (certain companies such as G.E. are phasing out of the fluorescent bulb business entirely), there are still millions of fluorescent bulbs in homes world-wide. The question becomes: once these bulbs burn out, what are you supposed to do with them?

The problem with fluorescent bulbs is that they contain mercury. If fluorescent bulbs are thrown in the trash they are likely to break, which is a big issue because each bulb contains at least 4 mg of mercury. This doesn’t seem so scary when you consider that a household thermometer contains 500 mg of mercury, but to put it in perspective– it is enough to contaminate two Olympic-size swimming pools.  That is why mercury can be harmful to the environment if it enters a landfill.  When the bulbs break in the natural compacting of waste on a landfill, the mercury has the opportunity to leach into the water supply.

And while it is very important to protect the environment from mercury contamination, there is danger to beware of in your own home as well. If the bulb breaks, the mercury is released as a vapor that can be inhaled and as a fine powder or liquid droplets that can settle into carpets.  If not properly cleaned up, this mercury can pose a serious health threat to children and pets.  A lot of people are aware of this danger but don’t know what to do with the bulbs, aside from not throwing them in the garbage.

So, unsure what their options are, people collect their bulbs, letting them pile up until a convenient option arises. In fact, the EPA gives the advice “Rather than disposing of them with household trash, simply store expended CFLs until easy recycling is available in your area”. Well meaning as this advice seems, these bulbs should be disposed of as quickly as possible.

While used fluorescent lamps are sitting in a box in your garage or shed, the mercury within them is still contained.  When the glass tube is intact, the mercury can be kept within them indefinitely.  The probability of you, your children or your pet accidentally coming into contact this box increases the longer the bulbs pile up.  More time sitting in storage equals greater chance of accidental breakage.  Not to mention that many of us store paints, solvents and automotive chemicals in our utility areas.  Broken bulbs could mix with other such household hazardous items in a contained area – your shed could be brewing all sorts of toxic concoctions.

Going the extra step to recycle your fluorescent bulbs correctly doesn’t have to be a huge pain. There are several convenient options available to dispose of fluorescent bulbs safely.

  • Drop off at a household hazardous waste collection area

Most municipalities and towns have designated drop-off centers where you can safely dispose of your bulbs and other household hazardous waste. And in most town this service is free or carries a very modest administrative fee. Neighbors can join forces and bring all their fluorescent bulbs over at once and split the cost if it seems too much. Your local solid waste department can provide the details on their website or by phone.

Earth 911 also provides information on recycling programs and other community programs to benefit the environment.   If you type in your zip code the site will tell you where hazardous waste drop-off areas are located and the collection schedule, if that is available in your town.


  • Drop off at a Home Depot or other hardware store

If the hazardous waste drop off in your town is too far, Home Depot offers recycling programs for CFLs.  Other hardware stores offer recycling for fluorescent lamps, batteries and used paint on a regional basis, as well.  Check with your local retailer for details.

Another option is to purchase an EasyPak CFL Recycling Box from TerraCycle. These are inexpensive way to keep your home safe from the potential  threat of mercury. The boxes are specially designed to meet crush-resistant standards and have an integrated lining that captures mercury, should a lamp break inside the box.   Once you buy an EasyPak, there is a prepaid return label included so you can send your fluorescent bulbs safely back to TerraCycle for recycling.

This is a great option for getting rid of fluorescent bulbs safely in your own house, or even incorporating your community into the cause by having a designated spot to put bulbs for several households. By being more aware of the potential harm fluorescent light bulbs can cause, we can all keep our homes and communities safer while saving energy and protecting the environment.

Colorado State Prison System Uses BulbEater to Recycle Lamps

Correctional facilities face a number of unique challenges unheard of in other large, multiuse properties.  Combining living space, industrial operations and heightened security needs puts lighting at a priority.  Burned-out fluorescent lamps are not just a nuisance but can be a life-threatening situation.  For that reason, correctional facility managers must stay ahead of lamp replacement.  Most will seek to replace lamps before the end of their practical lifecycle which can often result in the need to dispose of hundreds, if not thousands of lamps at a time.

The EPA requires that correctional facilities recycle all spent mercury-containing lamps.  With linear and U-bend fluorescent lamps in such great numbers at these facilities, it is important to understand how to remain compliant.  Failure to do so can result in violations and fines that could have been easily prevented.

“Correctional facilities are no different than any other non-residential fluorescent lamp user to the EPA,” explains Joe Day, Account Manager at TerraCycle Regulated Waste.  “The rules governing hazardous waste apply, just the same.  They must recycle all fluorescent lamps, as well as any other mercury-containing lamps.”

A facility will fall into one of three waste generator categories, based on the amount of total hazardous waste they generate per month.

  • Very Small Quantity Generators (VSQGs) generate 100 kilograms or less per month of hazardous waste or one kilogram or less per month of acutely hazardous waste.
  • Small Quantity Generators (SQGs) generate more than 100 kilograms, but less than 1,000 kilograms of hazardous waste per month.
  • Large Quantity Generators (LQGs) generate 1,000 kilograms per month or more of hazardous waste or more than one kilogram per month of acutely hazardous waste.

The materials that are considered ‘hazardous waste’ include fluorescent and mercury-containing lamps, paint, insecticides and fertilizers, batteries, and cleaning supplies.  Keeping these waste products in storage, on-site until pick up by a registered hazardous waste hauler is not uncommon, but must follow the federal guidelines.

For fluorescent lamps, that means storing in a way that prevents accidental breakage of the lamps and potential contamination by the release of the mercury contained in the lamps.  To achieve this, some larger facilities use a drum-top lamp crusher like the Bulb Eater 3®.  A lamp crusher is a device that crushes the glass tube of the fluorescent lamp in a vacuum system that captures the mercury before it can be released into the atmosphere.  The crushing of the lamps compacts the waste volume by as much as 80%, making storage much more manageable.  With a capacity of approximately 1350 T8 fluorescent lamps per 55-gallon steel drum, storage space is well controlled by lamp crushing.

BulbEater 3 with U-Bend/CFL chute attachment

“Our combined efforts will truly make a difference not only with complying with local regulations, but also with being good stewards for the environment.”  States Dave Bechtle, Colorado Department of Corrections.  Colorado purchased Bulb Eater 3® units in 2017 for all nine state penitentiaries.

For specialty lighting, like safety-sealed fluorescent lamps, drum-top bulb crushing is not appropriate.  To properly dispose of these types of lamps, a facility can purchase EasyPak self-sealing containers or PalletPak containers for larger quantities.  It is very important to note that the EPA requires that any spent lamps being stored at a facility until shipping is able to be efficiently facilitated must be kept in containers that prevent the accidental breakage and can capture any mercury, should there be accidental release.  Corrugated boxes or fiber drums used as storage must either be lined with plastic or contain an integrated seal, like EasyPak boxes.

Drum-top crushing is not approved in all states, so it is important to speak to a lamp recycling specialist to determine the best practices in your region.  Understanding how many lamps per month or year a facility is generating will make it easy to create a recycling plan that fulfills EPA compliance standards and meets the needs of the property—both in safety and security.