Drum-style fluorescent lamp crushers are being marketed to municipalities and businesses, with claims of saving money (compared with the cost of recycling lamps) and space (less required to store lamps for pickup). When assessing this type of equipment, please consider the following issues:

Studies have found mercury leaking from drum-style crushers, which may pose an occupational and environmental hazard. Studies on drum-style fluorescent lamp crushers published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the California Department of Toxics Substances Control indicate that mercury vapor can leak out of drum crushers through misuse and/or faulty seals. Removing the crusher from the drum and sealing the drum for disposal exposes the operator to mercury vapor and releases it into the environment.

Depending on the hazardous waste generator status of a municipality or business, a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) permit may be required for the use of lamp crushing equipment.

Crushing of lamps is allowed as a "recycling" activity under the Massachusetts Universal Waste rule (a streamlined set of hazardous waste requirements at 310 CMR 30.1034), but the process must separate the crushed material into its component parts (end-caps, glass and mercury/phosphor powder) so that each can be recycled.

A drum-style crusher that does not separate the crushed material into component parts for recycling does not satisfy the requirements of this regulation and will be subject to the Massachusetts hazardous waste licensing requirements. Generators who operate drum-style crushers that do not comply with the recycling requirements or are not properly permitted or licensed may be subject to enforcement action.

Crushing lamps may cost more than recycling them (using the Operational Services Division state contract):

  • The cost of recycling a single intact 4-foot lamp on the state contract ranges from $0.26 to $0.27. Since a 4-foot lamp can typically weigh between one-half and three-quarters of a pound, recycling lamps costs between $0.34 and $0.54 and per pound.
  • Hazardous waste disposal using the state contract costs approximately $2.00 to $2.25 per pound. Disposing of each individual crushed 4-foot lamp (weighing between one-half and three-quarters of a pound) would cost between $1.00 and $1.70. 
  • In addition, since the crushing process contaminates the drum and its filter, they may also need to be disposed of as hazardous waste, increasing the total disposal cost proportionately.
  • Additional costs associated with drum style fluorescent lamp crushers include the periodic purchase of replacement filters.

For more information on drum crushers, contact James Paterson of MassDEP at 617-556-1096.