Products that contain mercury: lamps

Some types of lamps, such as household light bulbs and outdoor streetlights, contain small quantities of mercury. Although they are safe to use, when a lamp breaks, the mercury can be released and contaminate the environment. It is important to safely handle and recycle these lamps. As a mercury-free alternative, light emitting diode (LED) lamps are available for all types of lighting applications. They offer greater energy efficiency and lifespan, and are becoming more affordable.

Common types of lamps that contain mercury

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are similar in size to an incandescent bulb but use a coiled or U-shaped fluorescent tube to produce light. They are used in homes and offices.

Compact fluorescent lamps

Straight (or linear) fluorescent lamps are sealed glass tubes. They are used to illuminate offices, stores, warehouses and homes.

Linear fluorescent lamps

High intensity discharge (HID) lamps are all similar in appearance but the colour and intensity of their light varies. They consist of a glass envelope with a pinched quartz glass tube and various metal electrodes inside and are used as farmyard lights, in arenas and stadiums, for street lighting and in parking lots.

High intensity discharge lamp

There are many other types of lamps used in Canada that contain mercury which need to be safely handled and recycled:

  • some types of neon signs
  • cold-cathode fluorescent bulbs used in television screens and monitors
  • lights used in tanning beds
  • some types of black lights
  • germicidal bulbs that produce ultraviolet light used in water filtration

What you should do

Many of us are unaware of the need to recycle these lamps once they burn out. Each year, between 200 and 400 kg of mercury comes into the environment from lamps that are thrown into landfills. In 2017, 34% of Canadian households reported they throw CFLs directly into the garbage.

Lamps containing mercury must be sent to specialized processing facilities for recycling or environmentally-sound disposal. There are facilities across the country that safely break them down and recover their components.

In Canada, recycling programs are operated by some provincial, territorial and municipal governments, as well as the private sector. Several provinces have extended producer responsibility programs which make the manufacturer, brand owner or first importer responsible to pay for the recycling of the lamp. Some municipalities collect bulbs year-round or run household hazardous waste collection events, and some retailers accept them free of charge.

Federal actions on lamps

Even small releases of mercury are a concern. Through the Products Containing Mercury Regulations, the manufacture and import of products containing mercury has been prohibited and there are limits on the amount of mercury in products such as lamps. We have developed a national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercury to improve how they are managed and reduce the number of them going into landfills. We have also published a code of practice to provide guidance and best practices for all aspects of handling these lamps effectively to ensure that mercury is not released into the environment.

Related information

Safety of compact fluorescent lamps

Canada's standard for efficient light bulbs – frequently asked questions

Guide to Canada's Energy Efficiency Regulations

Canada-wide standard for mercury-containing lamps

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