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Release Date: 06/28/99
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EPA today announced changes to the hazardous waste rules that apply to fluorescent lamps containing mercury. The new rule will protect public health and the environment by making recycling of fluorescent bulbs easier and cheaper. Fluorescent bulbs that are not recycled will continue to be treated with the same disposal safeguards that apply to all hazardous wastes.
EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner said, "Today’s action will better protect public health and the environment from mercury contamination by encouraging the recycling of fluorescent lamps and other common products that contain toxic wastes. It is a common-sense step to ensure that these wastes are managed more safely and cost efficiently."

Under today’s rule, states now will be able to encourage consumers to voluntarily recycle discarded fluorescent lamps and other household hazardous waste at approved collection facilities. By allowing and encouraging recycling, less of these wastes will end up in municipal landfills and incinerators, thereby providing stronger safeguards for public health and the environment.

Under the new rule, fluorescent bulbs will be treated as a "universal waste." Universal wastes are usually items commonly thrown into the trash by households and small businesses such as batteries, thermostats and obsolete pesticides. EPA issued the first universal waste rule in 1995 to streamline environmental regulations for wastes produced in relatively small quantities by large numbers of businesses. The universal waste rules reduce the amount of hazardous waste items reaching municipal landfills by encouraging greater recycling and proper disposal. Universal waste rules reduce the regulatory burden on businesses that generate these wastes because standards are less stringent for storing, transporting and collecting universal wastes, but the hazardous waste requirements for recycling, treatment or disposal must be complied with fully.

Before the rule announced today, many used lamps were fully regulated as hazardous waste because they frequently contained mercury, and sometimes lead. About 1 billion fluorescent lamps are disposed of annually, many of which are currently subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requirements. The decision to classify discarded hazardous waste lamps as universal waste was based on comments received on EPA’s 1994 proposal for managing such lamps, and on a 1997 study of mercury emissions from discarded lamps. The study showed that these emissions would be reduced under the universal waste approach.

The rule will be published in the Federal Register soon. Copies of the rule can be obtained from EPA’s web page at: under Laws and Regulations or by calling the RCRA Hotline at 1-800-424-9346 or 703-412-9810.

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