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How to Recycle Fluorescent Tubes Properly: Steps and Tips

Tube lights are found in many applications and environments such as office buildings, hallways, garages, and really anywhere that has a low and flat ceiling. Although fluorescent tubes contain small amounts of mercury and isn't a whole lot, you still want to avoid the breaking of a fluorescent tube and any exposure to mercury if possible. Whether you are simply replacing a burnt out fluorescent tube with a new one or are switching over to a new technology (such as LED), there is a proper way to do it. By following these steps along with others that you may find, you will allow yourself to reduce risk of harm for yourself, staff, or whoever is the one physically replacing the tube lights.   Let's answer some common questions and issues that people seem to face when tasked with this issue of replacing mercury filled fluorescent tubes.

Why does recycling fluorescent tubes matter?

By recycling rather than simply throwing away your tube lights, you opt-in for the environmentally friendly route of switching out old tubes. If you choose not to recycle, you are allowing toxic mercury to freely enter the environment, which of course is not good. Not only do you prevent mercury from freely entering the environment by recycling, but you also reduce waste. How exactly? Part of the tube is reused for new tubes that will be resold and used. This allows for less waste and this goes back to the saying "Reduce, Reused, Recycle." So by taking part of fluorescent tube recycling, you allow the process of recycling to continue and prevent waste from entering the landfill! 

How should I handle my fluorescent tubes?

When taking your tubes out to bring for recycling, this is probably the most difficult step you need to be most cautious with. The best option you have is to be prepared and know what to do if things go "south" as they like to say. Here is what you can do to prepare for the removal of fluorescent fixtures:

  • Remove all other persons (and pets) from the immediate area - don't allow anyone in until complete
  • Have proper ventilation - this is only needed in case you break a tube, but it's always better to have air flow throughout instead of after a mess occurs
  • Have clean up supplies in place - face mask, wet paper towel, and a bag to put broken glass in
  • Ensure a safe and steady area - you don't want anything to mess you up!

And for one thing that you should always remember for dealing with a broken tube is this: NEVER VACUUM. By vacuuming, you make glass particles go airborne and that is a highly dangerous situation to be in.

Where to recycle fluorescent light bulbs and tubes?

To put it simply, you are going to need to find a drop off location that allows for you to drop off fluorescent tubes to be recycled. The easiest way to find a location near you, check out Earth911 website. It allows you to search what you need to recycle and where you are located. So you go to that tool, type in 'fluorescent' or 'CFL' along with your location and you will surely come across the closest place to recycle fluorescent tubes (along with really anything else you may want to recycle). 

What will replace your existing tubes?

If you are in the process of disposing and recycling your fluorescent tubes, what is going in there to replace the ones you are removing? If the answer is "more fluorescent tubes," may we ask why? If fluorescent technology is dangerous in the first place, why do you want to reinstall more into your building, just to face this issue again down the line? By switching to a safe fluorescent alternative (such as LED technology), you allow yourself to get rid of mercury, reduce energy costs, all while getting higher quality light. So before you go ahead and install more fluorescent tubes in your ceiling, you may want to consider an LED alternative and realize all of the huge benefits that LED products offer. 

With all of that said, fluorescent light bulb recycling can be a lot easier (and safer) than one might think. By taking steps to prevent mistakes, as well as planning for any mistake that may occur, you truly mitigate most of the risk that comes along with fluorescent tube disposal / recycling.

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