New law will require recycling of fluorescent bulbs

Starting next year, Washington residents with spent light bulbs that contain mercury, including fluorescent and compact fluorescent ones, must recycle them.

The Washington Department of Ecology recently announced it has adopted a rule to implement the state’s Mercury-Containing Lights Product Stewardship Program, created by a law passed in 2010.

According to the department, users of bulbs containing mercury will be able to recycle them safely at no cost.

The law, which takes effect Jan. 1, creates a producer-financed program to collect, transport and recycle residential lights.

Once in effect, businesses cannot distribute, sell or offer for sale mercury-containing lights for residential use in Washington unless they are participating in a product stewardship program, according to the ecology department.

Ecology officials said broken fluorescent lights can expose people to the toxic vapors present in mercury, a potent neurotoxin.

The law makes it illegal to throw away used light bulbs that contain mercury.

But Kathy Davis, an ecology department spokesperson, said lawmakers did not specify if people would be subject to civil or criminal penalties for violations.

“It just says people must recycle,” Davis said. “The law is silent on any kind of penalty.”

Davis said she believed the intent of the law was to encourage recycling, not to punish violators.

Recycling and disposal facilites can protect themselves from unwitting violations by posting signs noting the changes in the law or otherwise telling their customers, she said.

The ecology department is still in the process of developing a statewide network of locations for people to drop off used light bulbs to recycle.

More information can be found on the Mercury-Containing Lights Product Stewardship website:

Contact Evan Marczynski at or call 360-647-8805. 

This article was revised on Nov. 29, 2012, to correct a style error in the headline. 

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