Hazards in the Office – Fluorescent Tubes
Fluorescent tubes are ubiquitous with the modern office building. Functional, practical and durable, they’re a familiar feature across the land. Did you know however that fluorescent tubes are actually classed as Hazardous Waste in England and Wales? This is because they contain mercury, a very toxic substance.
Toxic light bulbs have been in the news more than ever recently, with the government banning traditional bulbs and asking us all to use CFLs instead. You may have heard that if you accidentally break a CFL bulb, you have to open the window and leave the room for at least 15 minutes, before clearing up the broken glass with a piece of cardboard which you need to throw away afterwards. These worrying constraints have made many question the eco-friendliness of CFLs, but the fact remains that bulbs containing mercury have been in use in offices for years.
Proper disposal of fluorescent tubes is important not just for the environment, but for people too. If a fluorescent tube is carelessly broken in a workplace it puts the staff at risk. If a tube is thrown into a general rubbish bin, it contaminates the rest of the rubbish making the whole bin full of hazardous waste that must be disposed of appropriately.
Because mercury is so toxic, it’s important that it doesn’t make it to landfill. Despite this, it often does; over 60 million fluorescent tubes a year are sent to landfill when it’s possible to recycle them. Recycling is more complicated when it comes to hazardous waste however – a ‘closed loop’ is highly important.
Closed loop recycling means that nothing is wasted during the recycling process – everything is recycled or reused in some way. In the case of fluorescent tubes, it’s relatively easy to recycle the glass and plastic components. The toxic mercury is actually contained within phosphor powder, and this has to be distilled so that the mercury can be extracted. Not all recycling companies do this, but the end product is pure mercury that can be used elsewhere.
If you have fluorescent tubes, make sure that you dispose of them through a reputable recycling firm. Check the company website for information on fluorescent tube recycling – if they offer closed loop recycling you know that your waste will be disposed of in the most environmentally-friendly way.