Products that contain mercury: lamps
Some types of lamps, such as household light bulbs and outdoor streetlights, contain 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 the most common type of lamps containing mercury found in our homes.
Straight (or linear) fluorescent lamps (LFL) are sealed glass tubes containing mercury in vapor and powder forms. They are the most common type of lamps containing mercury in Canada. They are widely used in offices, stores and warehouses, and to a lesser extent in homes.
High intensity discharge (HID) lamps include metal halide, high pressure sodium, and mercury vapor lamps. They 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. They are used for street lighting, in parking lots, arenas, stadiums, greenhouses and farmyards.
There are other types of lamps containing mercury used in Canada, which also need to be safely handled and disposed of properly:
- some types of neon signs
- cold-cathode fluorescent light bulbs (CCFL) used in older models of televisions and monitors
- headlamps on some models of automobiles
- lights used in tanning beds
- some types of black lights
- ultraviolet germicidal lamps used to sterilize water, air or surfaces
- some grow lights used for plants or reptiles
To know if a lamp contains mercury; look for the symbol “Hg” on the bulb or the fixture, or for the statement “Contains mercury” on the packaging or its manual.
What you should do
Many people are unaware of the need to recycle lamps containing mercury once they burn out. Each year, between 200 and 400 kg of mercury is released 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 provincial, territorial or municipal governments, as well as by the private sector. Several provinces have extended producer responsibility programs which make the manufacturer, brand owner or importer responsible to pay for the recycling of the lamp. Many municipalities collect bulbs year-round or run household hazardous waste collection events. Similarly, many retailers accept them free of charge.
- Canada's national strategy for lamps containing mercury
- Extended producer responsibility programs
- List of recycling programs and companies in Canada
Federal actions on lamps
Even small releases of mercury are a concern for human health or the environment. And this is why the federal government has undertaken numerous domestic and global actions to limit or eliminate mercury releases and exposure
Through the Products Containing Mercury Regulations, which came into force in 2015, the manufacture and import of products containing mercury are prohibited in Canada. There are however exemptions for essential products, such as for certain types of lamps. For these exemptions, there are strict limits on the amount of mercury they contain.
Furthermore, in 2019, a National strategy for lamps containing mercury was developed, which aims at improving the rate at which lamps are properly disposed of, instead of ending up in landfills. We also published a Code of practice to provide guidance and best practices for all aspects of handling these lamps effectively, in order to ensure that mercury is not released into the environment.
Finally, Canada ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which came into force in 2017. The Minamata Convention is a global treaty that addresses all aspects of the life cycle of mercury, including requiring controls and reductions across a range of industries and products such as lamps.
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