In April, I discussed the facts about green sunlamps and proper disposal. Since then, I’ve received an overwhelming number of calls and e-mails requesting more information on this topic. Here are few of the most common questions:
Q: I’ve read that some companies’ lamps have passed the TCLP (Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure) test for mercury content. Does this mean those lamps no longer are considered hazardous waste and can be disposed of as normal refuse in some states?
A: As mentioned previously in my April column and throughout the May issue—which was dedicated to tanning lamps—some manufacturers of indoor tanning lamps produce low-mercury versions of lamps that pass the TCLP test. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourages the recycling of all mercury-containing lamps, regardless of the mercury content. Less mercury doesn’t mean that these lamps don’t have any mercury.
Q: I’ve heard that purchasing green lamps will help my bottom line and represent a substantial savings for my salons because of the reduction in recycling costs. How much will I actually save?
A: As mentioned earlier, many states have stronger restrictions than the EPA in regard to recycling. Therefore, depending on your state, TCLP-compliancy might not make a difference. And if you did toss your spent tanning lamps in the dumpster in such a state, a variety of responses could occur. First, the local waste removal company can (and probably will) decline to empty the dumpster, which will affect all businesses that share that dumpster. Second, the state or local government may instruct you to remove all lamps (including those that are broken) and place them in a proper recycling container. Finally, you may incur a fine. So, if that’s the case, say goodbye to saving money. Because of that fact, all salon owners should become familiar with and abide by their individual state requirements, regardless of TCLP-compliancy.
Q: Environmentally speaking, just how important is lamp recycling?
A: For the answer to this, I turned to the Washington State Department of Ecology—a great source of pertinent information on the environment. Here is an excerpt from its Environmentally Preferable Product Report:
The importance of recycling fluorescent lamps cannot be understated. All fluorescent lamps contain mercury. Mercury is a highly toxic metal; it must be contained and properly managed. Mercury is an extremely dangerous neurotoxin, affecting the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver, causing irreversible health damage. Although a single fluorescent lamp contains a relatively small amount of mercury, it is important that all lamp users recycle expired lamps to prevent the cumulative effects of improper mercury disposal. According to the “Journal Of The Air & Waste Management Association,” two to four tons of mercury is released annually in the United States due to the improper disposal of approximately 620 million fluorescent lamps. When disposed of properly, mercury is captured through extraction techniques and reused in other manufacturing processes. Take care not to break the lamps when collecting for recycling.
The report went on to note that all fluorescent lamps should be recycled, including linear straight tubes, U-shaped, circular and compact, as well as green or low-mercury lamps.
Q: I have read that TCLP-compliant sunlamps need not be handled as hazardous waste during disposal. At the same time, many lamp manufacturers are saying that they recommend recycling as the most-responsible method for disposal of spent lamps. I’m confused—what should I do?
A: All customers of fluorescent lamps must be environmentally conscious and adhere to their state and local regulations regarding lamp disposal. The most-responsible method of disposal is to collect and recycle all spent fluorescent lamps to prevent the release of mercury into the environment.