Fluorescent tubes, or as they are also known, fluorescent lamps, are light bulbs that use fluorescence to create visible light. They are typically found in commercial properties, but can also be present in domestic homes.

Made from glass, fluorescent tubes contain mercury vapour and phosphor powder which glows due to ultraviolet radiation.

The contents of fluorescent tubes are highly toxic, as the fluorescence is caused by mercury vapour. Despite more modern tubes containing fewer hazardous materials than old bulbs, should they not be handled correctly, the mercury contained within the fluorescent tubes can cause many health problems. Therefore, the correct disposal of fluorescent tubes is imperative.

What’s The Difference Between Light Bulbs and Fluorescent Tubes?

Light bulbs and fluorescent tubes do serve the same purpose, however, the latter is more energy efficient. This is because they produce less heat than regular bulbs.

Traditional bulbs also produce light differently, as a metallic filament is heated, whereas a tube uses mercury vapour and gases to produce light.

Do Fluorescent Tubes Count As Hazardous Waste?

Fluorescent tubes count as hazardous waste. The average tube contains around 3.5mg of mercury, which can be dangerous should the tubes break and release their contents. Even though the mercury content is relatively low, mercury can cause damage to the brain, nervous system, kidneys, lungs and other organs. Therefore, extreme caution should be taken to dispose of fluorescent tubes properly.

How To Properly Dispose of A Fluorescent Tube

Just one fluorescent tube contains enough mercury to pollute 30,000 litres of water. This is why correct fluorescent tube recycling is so paramount.

A fluorescent tube should never be disposed of with regular waste, even in glass bins. When fluorescent tubes are shattered, they will release hazardous chemicals into the environment. Even when fluorescent tubes are sent to a typical landfill, or if they are incinerated, mercury vapour is released resulting in contamination to the environment, water supplies and wildlife.

As mercury vapour is odourless and colourless, identifying a leak can be tough. Therefore, this will risk the health and safety of employees, customers and the general public. The Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE Directive) Regulations 2013 state the profound importance of proper disposal.

Disposal of fluorescent tubes regulations state the business owners must:

  • Classify their waste
  • Ensure that hazardous materials are stored in appropriate bins and containers before they are collected
  • Arrange for the waste to be collected by a licensed carrier and ensure they receive a waste transfer note

Fluorescent tubes must be stored in an appropriate container whilst awaiting disposal. Bubble wrap can be good for protecting fluorescent tubes whilst they await transportation.

You can recycle most light bulbs and fluorescent tubes at household recycling centres if you need guidance on domestic fluorescent tube disposal. Many hardware stores and retailers also recycle fluorescent tubes.

What To Do With A Broken Tube

You must first evacuate the room, should you accidentally break a fluorescent tube. Ensure no one walks through the breakage, open the windows and leave the room for at least 15 minutes.

As you leave, turn off any central heating or air conditioning.

After 15 minutes, note the following steps.

If the fluorescent tube has been broken on a hard surface:

  • Put on some gloves before you touch anything,
  • Collect the glass pieces and powder,
  • Empty into an airtight container or sealed plastic bag,
  • Use tape to pick up any remaining smaller pieces,
  • Once you are confident that all is cleared up, wipe the area with damp paper towels or wet wipes,
  • Place the towels or wet wipes into the jar or sealed plastic bag.

As a precaution, do not use a vacuum or broom to clear up the broken tube.

If the fluorescent tube has been broken on a carpet:

  • Put on some gloves,
  • Collect the broken glass pieces and powder,
  • Empty into an airtight container or plastic bag,
  • Use tape to pick up any remaining pieces,
  • Once the visible materials are removed, use a vacuum if needed,
  • Empty the vacuum into a sealed bag.

As a precaution, the next several times that you vacuum your carpet, open a window and leave it open for at least 15 minutes.

Is Fluorescent Tube Recycling Possible?

Recycling fluorescent tube waste is possible. A specialist waste disposal centre will be able to deconstruct the tubes and the hazardous waste, including mercury and phosphor powder, is removed and isolated. This is then disposed of safely.

The other elements of the fluorescent tubes, including the glass and metal, will also go through the recycling process. The glass is cleaned and checked for contaminates, and then recycled.

Pile of old used fluorescent tubes and electronic waste

Can You Dispose of Fluorescent Tubes In A Skip?

You cannot dispose of hazardous and harmful waste in a skip. Doing so may harm the skip handler and risk releasing mercury into the environment.

Ensuring The Correct Disposal of Fluorescent Tubes

We need to consider the amount of electronic equipment waste we produce yearly. To put this into perspective, 100 million fluorescent tubes are in use across the UK today, with the final total growing by 5% annually. Should these not be properly disposed of, the consequences we could face in terms of impact on the environment could be huge.

Many people are choosing to swap their old fluorescent tubes and light bulbs for LED bulbs and other more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient options, with LED bulbs making up two-thirds of all bulbs sold in the UK. Whilst we are starting to see the gradual phasing out of older lighting equipment, we need to claim accountability for this waste and ensure that it is disposed of and recycled correctly.

Disposing of fluorescent tubes can be quick and easy when you follow the correct steps towards proper disposal.

REMONDIS offer a fully compliant fluorescent tube disposal service and can provide further information on properly disposing of old fluorescent tubes. We want to mitigate the harmful impact of improper disposal on the environment and educate our customers on safely disposing of their waste.

Recycle your light bulbs, protect the environment, and meet all legal measures by using the right recycling services. Call 01670 468 944 for impartial advice from our reliable and knowledgeable team.