Fluorescent light tubes are used to provide illumination in numerous facilities on the University of Michigan (U-M) campus. Mercury is an essential component in the manufacturing of fluorescent light tubes. Mercury is considered hazardous by the Environmental Protection Agency due to its ability to bioaccumulate within the environment; recycling fluorescent light tubes mitigates the potential for mercury to enter the environment. U-M is currently recycling approximately 120,000 fluorescent light tubes annually from 22 million square feet of facilities throughout its campuses.
Applicable Regulations
49 CFR Parts 260-268.

State of Michigan Act 451 Part 111

Overview of Procedure
Numerous types of fluorescent light tubes are used in facilities on the U-M campus. The type of fluorescent light tube used for lighting is dependent upon building design and specific application. At this time, all fluorescent light tubes contain some quantity of mercury-containing calcium phosphate powder. As energy is added to a fluorescent light tube, mercury atoms become excited and produce ultraviolet energy. Phosphorus, another essential component of fluorescent light tubes, converts the ultraviolet energy into visible light. The quantity of mercury contained within each tube varies depending upon size, manufacturer, and the time period during which the tube was manufactured.

Currently, several types of fluorescent light tubes are being used including: straight two, four, five, and eight-foot tubes, "U" shaped tubes, compact fluorescent tubes, and T-8 tubes which are smaller in diameter and more energy efficient than traditional fluorescent light tubes of similar length. Efforts are underway to systematically replace traditional fluorescent light tubes with more energy efficient units.

All spent fluorescent light tubes replaced during preventative maintenance and renovation activities are sent to a recycling contractor for processing.

Waste Minimization Procedure
Spent fluorescent light tubes are removed from fluorescent light fixtures and packaged in cardboard boxes specifically designed for individual tube types to prevent breakage. The fluorescent light tube boxes are stored in a designated area and properly labeled.

The boxes are picked up and transported to the tube recycling facility by the recycling vendor under contract. Upon arrival, the tubes are loaded onto a conveyer belt and crushed under negative pressure. The mercury-containing calcium phosphate powder is separated into a storage container, and the glass and aluminum end caps are segregated. The powder is then subjected to a process called "retorting" where the mercury is heated, vaporized, and distilled for recovery. The recovered mercury, aluminum end caps, and glass are marketed to manufacturers and utilized in a variety of products. Air emission monitoring of the tube crusher and analytical testing on the glass and aluminum end caps, are conducted at the recycling facility to ensure that the mercury-containing powder is being controlled according to state and federal regulations.

Known Limitations
Care must be taken during the handling, packaging, and transportation of the fluorescent light tubes to prevent breakage.

Safety & Health Precautions/Personal Protective Equipment
Follow all applicable safety and health protocols and regulations as established by your institution.

Recycling fluorescent light tubes mitigates the potential for mercury to enter the environment, which reduces potential future liability from "cradle to grave" hazardous waste disposal responsibilities.

Broken tubes may present a physical hazard to personnel, and a potential environmental risk if the powder is not appropriately contained.

Project Related Costs
The following cost requirements are associated with implementing and conducting a fluorescent light tube recycling project. These costs will differ depending on organizational dependent variables:

  • Labor for removing and packaging fluorescent light tubes;
  • Packaging materials (cardboard boxes, tape, labels, manifests);
  • Transportation of the packaged tubes to the recycling facility;
  • Cost of recycling each tube;
  • Costs for project management.