Posted on: March 23, 2011 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) light bulbs pose injury, exposure, and environmental risks, requiring handling, storage, recycling and disposal procedures.

CFLs are not legally considered hazardous, but requires special removal, handling and disposal to prevent potential serious injury from broken glass, exposure to small amounts of mercury vapour and residual mercury in the interior tube coating, and environmental impacts from the complex combination of electronic materials used.

Dispose of old CFLs like other e-waste, at supermarket or supplier waste recycling banks, along with unusable batteries, cell phones, computers, and radios.

Eskom notes a ‘last resort’ alternative disposal by sealing unserviceable or broken CFLs in newspaper wrapping, in plastic bags in general refuse bins, but acknowledge that general waste disposal of old or broken CFLs expose users, informal recyclers, disposal workers, and landfill resource reclaimers to risk of injury, as well as adding to landfill volume and eventual leaching of metals.

CFL breakage response

Eskom advises a CFL breakage response procedure;
* open nearby windows to disperse vapor
* carefully sweep up fragments and interior coating powder
* do not touch fragments by hand
* use thick, sturdy gloves as hand protection
* wipe the area with a disposable paper towel to remove glass fragments
* do not use a vacuum cleaner
* place fragments in rolled newspaper, in a plastic bag
* dispose at an e-waste bin or recycling point
* dispose in general waste stream as a last resort.

Drop off old CFLs at retailers who offer a take back service, like Woolworths and Pick ‘n Pay, or municipal recycling or e-waste sites. Dot to break the lamps, unless using specialised crushing and containing equipment.

CFLs should be recognised as fragile, potentially sharp, containing mercury, requiring storage after use, and special e-waste disposal procedures.

Employers and industries should include fluorescent tubes and CFL protocols in a comprehensive Waste Management Plan (WMP).

CFL storage

Store new and used CFLs separately, in a safe place, in non breakable containers, lined with plastic bags and newspaper, to contain lamp fragments in the event of breakage.

Keep relevant PPE, including strong gloves, closer fitting eye protection, and a haz spillage cleanup kit, in the haz and CFL lamp storage area. Keep the kit and PPE to hand during light bulb maintenance and replacement work.

All employees must be trained to respond to haz material and CFL spillage and breakage, and be informed bout risks of broken CFL cuts, as well as mercury exposure.

If many CFLs are broken together, ventilate the area, and call in a hazmat response service. A mass of broken CFLs should be crushed, chemically treated, and sealed, unless directly disposed of at a licensed haz waste facility.

CFL disposal procedures

Best practice in safe disposal of CFLs is currently the responsibility of the Illumination Engineering Society of South Africa (IESSA) and the Department of Environmental Affairs, whose joint working group are drafting hazardous waste disposal mechanisms.

CFLs disposed of at hazardous waste facilities, must be treated according to guidelines and Minimum Requirements, prior to disposal at a licensed haz waste landfill site.

Containers in which CFLs are treated and transported to the landfill site may not be opened, and must be disposed of on site.

Containers should be clearly labeled according to contents. Hazardous landfill sites where CFLs are disposed of, must be permitted, licensed and operated according to DWAF Minimum Requirements for Hazardous Waste, including;
• Regular audits of facilities according to DWAF Minimum Requirements.
• Measurement and verification system to record received and disposed CFL by mass.
• Operating plans including CFL disposal procedures.
• Encapsulation in impermeable substance, like concrete.
• Re-opening or downstream chemical treatment of CFL waste, by mercury immobilising chemicals, is strictly prohibited.
• Transporters of CFLs to landfill must be informed of legal requirements.
• Transporters must receive treated and crushed lamps in sealed containers for encapsulation.

CFL handling

Bulk handlers of CFLs should note these requirements;
• Vehicles must be roadworthy and comply with National Traffic Act requirements published under GNR 225.
• Applicable and accurate TREM card decals must be displayed on vehicles.
• Drivers must be qualified and certified to transport hazardous goods.
• Drivers must be trained to deal with emergencies.
• Haw waste handlers must wear relevant personal protective equipment (PPE).
• Transport contractors must capture and keep waste data and submit records and reports to clients and Waste Information System (WIS) agencies, either the relevant metro or provincial authority.

Mercury exposure alleged

Eskom is aware of an email chain alleging serious injury from stepping on an energy saver CFL lamp, and is investigating the allegation.

Mercury is an essential, irreplaceable element in CFLs. The amount of mercury in a CFL is 5 milligrams (5mg), about a fifth of the mercury in a watch battery (25mg), and 100 times less than mercury in a household thermometer (500mg) or stabilised mercury in metallic teeth fillings (500mg).

The average amount of mercury in a CFL is about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen, and occurs in vapour form inside lamp tubes. During use, this mercury vapour is absorbed into the interior lamp walls, metal lamp ends, and other bulb components.

At the end of a bulb’s rated life, very little of the mercury is available for release into the environment.

Energy and mercury emissions saved

Lighting costs 14% of the average household electricity account. Up to 80% of this cost can be saved by replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

Over five years, a coal fired power plant emits about 10mg of mercury to power an old style incandescent bulb, compared to 2.4mg of mercury to power a CFL.

The biggest source of mercury in the atmosphere is burning of fossil fuels such as coal. CFLs are supposed to last six times longer than currently available incandescent bulbs.

World moving to CFLs

Canada and Australia aim to phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2012. In the UK, over 39million CFLs have been installed in houses.

Eskom has placed 22million CFLs in homes and offices in South Africa. CFL usage is currently around 50%.

CFL risk management resources

• Risks of broken CFLs;

• Legislation on handling and disposal of large quantities of haz waste, Minimum Requirements for Hazardous Waste Disposal; and relevant municipal bylaws.

• Legislation and best practice participation;

-Zitholele /Goldervia Jacqui Hex, Elias Barnard, Jarrod Ball, Leon Bredenhann, on 011 254 4901,
-Envirosense via Susanne Dittke, 021 706 9829,
-Alakriti Consulting via Mari-Louise van der Walt, 082 574 6054,

• Eskom info;

• Lighting industry info; IESSA, lighting industry of South Africa,

• Haz disposal services; Institute of Waste Management of Southern Africa (IWMSA), 011 675 3462 /4, or

• Drop-off and waste management plan info;
-Philips on 087 940 4194, 011 471 5065,
-Osram at
-Eurolux on 021 528 8400, 011 608 2970,


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