Facts Show How and Why Bulb Recycling Plan Works

Source: Trammell Crow Co. and Air Cycle Corp.

A fluorescent lamp recycling program will impact the average property operating expense budget by less than one-tenth of one percent.

Waste is lost raw material, lost product, lost resource, and lost profit. Generating significant amounts of waste is not sustainable for today's society. The accelerating pressures on natural resources, impact of new technology on resource use, increasing waste generation and the need for more sustainable approaches to using natural resources represent new challenges to our society.

For over 20 years, the recycling of paper, cardboard, glass, plastic and other materials have been a part of waste management practices for property and facility managers. As space utilization and consumption patterns of our building occupants change with new technologies, the efficient use of non-renewable resources and the proper disposal of environmentally sensitive waste are having a greater impact on service and operations.

The EPA recently started an outreach program into all segments of industry to assist businesses with the goal of minimizing the toxicity of generated waste and expand recycling. The National Waste Management Program supports efforts that promote reductions in the amounts and toxicity of generated waste. In April 2004, the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP) Program was expanded to focus on reducing the amount of chemicals found in waste. This program encourages public and private organizations to form voluntary partnerships with EPA to reduce the use or release of any of thirty one priority chemicals, such as lead and mercury. These metals are found in fluorescent lamps, batteries and electronic products.

In January 2005, Trammell Crow Co. began an initiative to recycle fluorescent lamps throughout the MidAtlantic Division, which constitutes over 270 properties located in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia and totaling over 22 million square feet of office, retail, warehouse and light industrial uses.

It was important to identify and retain professional advisory services to provide regulatory guidance for each state involved, and possesses the capacity to source different program options for properties of various uses. The type and current use for each property was the most significant factor in determining an efficient recycling program. Esquire Environmental Services, Inc. was selected due to their ability to offer both environmental regulatory consulting services and recycling solutions and programs.

All treatment and recycling protocols are managed through EPA approved, licensed and permitted facilities. These facilities directly provide customers with all necessary certifications to document compliance.

Recycling Programs

As different properties and programs were under review, two specific methods emerged and were utilized as the most cost-effective means for recycling and disposal of fluorescent lamps in office buildings. The information below is based upon a benchmark of single or multiple building units totaling 300,000 square feet:

  • Option 1: On-site Bulb Eater machines with a disposal program. This option involves the purchase of a Bulb Eater machine mounted on a disposal drum, and placed in a central location to service one or more buildings. The drums hold approximately 700 pounds of spent material each which are disposed of twice a year. The Bulb Eater costs $2,750 and the disposal cost is $290 per drum, or $580 per year.
  • Option 2: Collection boxes with pickup and disposal by a recycling depot. This option is a collection program sponsored by a licensed and permitted recycling depot that provides boxes that hold approximately 70 pounds of lamps each which are shipped to the depot when full. The cost is approximately $70 per box for shipping and disposal with an annual total of 20 boxes per year, or $1,400 disposal cost per year.

Both options dispose of approximately 1,400 pounds of fluorescent lamps per year, per 300,000 square feet, or 214 square feet per pound. The disposal cost for Option 1 is: $0.41 per pound (minus the crusher machine), and option 2 is: $1.00 per pound. The difference is due to packaging and shipping costs for the box program. The cost of the crusher machine in Option 1 may be amortized over a useful life of five years, increasing the expense to $0.81 per pound.

Expense Profile

The profile is based upon an office building benchmark of 300,000 square feet, with a total annual operating expense budget of $16 per square foot, and representing an annual waste management expense component of $0.10 per square foot.

Expenses on an annual basis:

  • The Bulb Eater program cost with an amortized machine expense is $1,130 per year, or approximately $0.0037 per square foot, representing a 3.7% increase in waste management operating expenses, or a 0.00023% increase in total operating expenses
  • The box program cost is $1,400 per year, or approximately $0.0046 per square foot, representing a 4.6% increase in waste management operating expenses, or a 0.00029% increase in total operating expenses


Here are the benefits:

  • Municipal landfill disposal fees are approximately $55 per ton. Based upon a 12-month month trend of lamp recycling, this represents approximately 1,400 pounds for a 300,000 square foot property, or $38.50 saved in annual disposal fees
  • Reduction of risk and liability associated with improper disposal. Fines could be as much as $32,000 per occurrence
  • The reduction of mercury disposed in our nations landfills
  • Opportunities to participate in EPA-sponsored programs to improve operations. The National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP) Program has many benefits. Along with positive market exposure is access to a database of technical information and resources. Further details of NPEP program benefits can be found at www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/minimize/benefits.htm Listings for regional and state partnership and award programs for each state can be found at www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/minimize/otherprograms.htm


The integration of fluorescent lamp recycling with standard waste management practices for commercial real estate have produced a minimal cost impact to overall property operating expenses, and is partially offset by a reduction in municipal landfill disposal fees.

A fluorescent lamp recycling program will impact the average property operating expense budget by less than one-tenth of one percent. Depending upon the facility size, type and/or use, a higher economy of scale may be achieved by supporting more square footage with each bulb crushing machine or collection box program. Depending upon facility location, other forms of recycling programs for fluorescent lamps may also be identified as available and more cost effective.

Editor's note: This information was prepared by Mark Aaron Polhemus Sr., vice president and director of engineering for Trammell Crow Co., and provided to AFE by Air Cycle (www.aircycle.com or www.lamprecycling.com). (This article previously appeared in the March/April 2007 issue of Facilities Engineering Journal, flagship publication of The Association for Facilities Engineering, www.afe.org).