Disposing of Mercury Products

Mercury is found in some consumer and industrial products and can be released into the environment when a product is disposed of improperly. Mercury then enters the global mercury cycle and can bioaccumulate in living organisms, potentially affecting ecosystems and human health. Find out which products contain mercury and ensure that they are recycled or disposed of properly.

The fate of the mercury contained in various products depends upon the method of disposal at the end of the product's life. The more fragile products, such as fluorescent lamps, may break during transportation and release mercury into the air. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 3% of the total mercury in discarded fluorescent lamps is released to the atmosphere during transportation to a disposal facility, while other researchers estimate emissions are as high as 17%. If a mercury-containing product ends up in a landfill, the mercury can leach into the surrounding soil or be released into the atmosphere. If waste is incinerated, the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere may be higher. Without any pollution controls, almost all of the mercury entering an incinerator will be emitted with the flue gas.

Ensuring that mercury-containing products are properly and safely recycled or disposed of is one step that can be taken to protect environmental and human health. To avoid the risk associated with disposal of mercury-containing products, purchase mercury-free alternatives if available. Please visit the What Can I Do? page for more suggestions on how to reduce mercury releases to the environment.

Use this web page as a starting point to find information about methods of disposing of mercury-containing products that may be available in your region. The information and links below are provided for the convenience of the reader and do not necessarily address regulatory requirements. It is up to the individual or facility to contact local authorities to ensure proper disposal practices are followed. Please contact us if you are aware of any information or other initiatives that should be included on this page.

Residential Recycling and Disposal

Mercury-containing items should be treated as hazardous materials and should not be thrown in the garbage and liquid mercury should never be poured down the drain. Many municipalities have programs that accept household products that contain mercury. Some have implemented collection programs specifically for mercury-containing products, while others collect mercury-containing products as part of their household hazardous waste programs. Contact your municipality to find out about local disposal options. There may also be other initiatives in your region outside the municipal programs. The links below can help you find more information on some of the initiatives available to you.

The Earth 911 website provides a searchable database (based on postal codes) for disposal and recycling centres in Canada, the US, and internationally.

The Recycling Council of British Columbia provides a hotline service that supplies information on waste recycling and disposal throughout the entire province.

The Recycling Council of Alberta maintains the Enviro Business Guide, which includes a list of businesses that process fluorescent lamps.

Alberta Environment has introduced voluntary Fluorescent Bulb and Electronic Recycling programs.

The Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council has information about disposal of household hazardous waste.

Ecoville is Manitoba's premier source for waste recycling and disposal information.

Recyc-Québec lets you search for disposal and recycling options by municipality or product type.(available in French only)

The Island Waste Management Corporation has information on Prince Edward Island's battery collection program.

The Merc-Divert Superior program, run by EcoSuperior, supports several initiatives to prevent mercury pollution in Thunder Bay and the surrounding Lake Superior basin.

Commercial, Institutional and Industrial Recycling and Disposal

Spilled mercury and waste mercury-containing equipment and products should be treated as hazardous materials and in many cases as hazardous wastes. This waste must be disposed of in accordance with all relevant requirements (see provincial and territorial legislation) and be recycled wherever possible. To help plan for the proper recycling or disposal of mercury-containing products, identify hazardous waste management firms and/or certified carriers and remember to properly package products prior to transport to help prevent breaks or leaks. The links below can help you find more information.

The Recycling Council of British Columbia provides a hotline service that supplies information on waste recycling and disposal throughout the entire province.

Alberta Environment has introduced voluntary Fluorescent Bulb and Electronic Recycling programs for institutions, businesses, and industries.

The Merc-Divert Superior program, run by EcoSuperior, supports several initiatives to prevent mercury pollution in Thunder Bay and the surrounding Lake Superior basin.

The LampRecycle.org web site is an American resource for information about mercury-containing lamp recycling and lists lamp-recycling companies in Canada.

The Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers represents the majority of commercial processors of mercury-containing wastes in the US some of whom also operate in Canada.

The Clean Air Foundation - Switch Out website lists participants in the program for removal of mercury switches in automobiles.

Fluorescent Lamps

Mercury-containing lamps such as fluorescent lamps are an energy efficient choice that can be used in many lighting applications. Mercury is in fact an essential component and no viable replacement has been found at this time. Coal-fired electricity generation represents one of the largest sources of atmospheric mercury emissions to the Canadian environment. Also, hydro-electric dams increase mercury levels in the water reservoirs that result from their construction. Therefore, the use of fluorescent lamps, which are far more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, can reduce energy consumption and may, as a result, decrease overall mercury releases. Through the Canada-Wide Standard for Mercury-containg Lamps, manufacturers have committed to significant reductions in the amount of mercury in lamps. The best energy efficient lighting option remains choosing low-mercury, long-life fluorescent bulbs and disposing of end-of-life lamps properly.

Mercury-containing lamps should be treated as hazardous materials and should not be thrown in the garbage. Many municipalities have programs that accept household products that contain mercury. Some have implemented collection programs specifically for fluorescent bulbs, while others collect them as part of their household hazardous waste programs. If you wish to dispose of bulbs that were for personal use, you may wish to contact your local municipality or provincial authority for disposal information.

Tip: Keep your bulbs' original packaging and use it to store spent bulbs to prevent them from breaking in order to avoid mercury releases during transport to the disposal facility.

Depending on the circumstances and the quantities of waste, end-of-life fluorescent bulbs are in many cases classified as hazardous waste. This can be the case when commercial/industrial/institutional facilities generate waste fluorescent lamps. It is the responsibility of facility managers to be aware of the policies, legislation and initiatives that apply to their facility and the associated legal liability of the organization.

It is important that fluorescent lamps are properly disposed of in order to prevent mercury releases from the bulb. The best disposal method for fluorescent tubes is recycling. Used lamps must be handled carefully to ensure that they do not break or implode and release mercury. Fluorescent lamps should be left intact because of the dangers associated with mercury vapours, glass shards and dust. A convenient place to store lamps to prevent them from breaking is in the lamps' original packaging or in boxes that may be supplied by lamp recyclers. To help plan for the proper recycling or disposal of used fluorescent bulbs, facility managers can identify lamp recycling companies, hazardous waste management firms and/or certified carriers.