Skip to comments.Recycling options lag behind major push for CFLs - Mercury-laced bulbs a concern
Posted on 05/21/2008 6:30:38 PM PDT by neverdem
It's a message being drummed into the heads of homeowners everywhere: Swap out those incandescent lights with longer-lasting compact fluorescent bulbs and cut your electric use.
Governments, utilities, environmentalists and, of course, retailers everywhere are spreading the word.
Few, however, are volunteering to collect the mercury-laced bulbs for recycling -- despite what public officials and others say is a potential health hazard if the hundreds of millions of them being sold are tossed in the trash and end up in landfills and incinerators.
For now, much of the nation has no real recycling network for CFLs, despite the ubiquitous PR campaigns, rebates and giveaways encouraging people to adopt the swirly darlings of the energy-conscious movement. Recyclers and others guess that only a small fraction of CFLs sold in the United States are recycled, while the rest are put out with household trash or otherwise discarded.
"In most parts of the country, it requires getting in your car and burning up your gas and going out of your way, a long ways, and people are unlikely to do this," said Paul Abernathy, the executive director of the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers in Calistoga, Calif.
Sales of the bulbs have skyrocketed this decade -- doubling last year to about 380 million after registering just 17,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Recycling efforts, though, are spotty at best.
Some communities are arranging special CFL drop-off events while some city or county hazardous waste collection facilities accept them.
Swedish retailer IKEA collects the bulbs at its 34 U.S. stores, and manufacturer Osram Sylvania offers a mail-in program. In Nevada, customers of Sierra Pacific Power Co. can now take used CFLs to eight landfills to be recycled.
A few governments have targeted retailers.
The city of Madison, Wis., requires retailers that sell the bulbs to also collect them for recycling, although stores can charge a fee for it. Maine and Vermont fund programs that distribute collection bins to retailers, from neighborhood hardware stores to Wal-Marts, and get the bulbs to recyclers, either by pickup or mail.
Pennsylvania spent $8,000 to distribute white plastic buckets to several dozen businesses, community organizations and local governments that wanted them. The buckets come with a seal-tight lid and the state pays the postage to send them to a recycler.
Two of the buckets are nestled among the expanding display of CFLs lined up on wall pegs at Ritters True Value Hardware in the central Pennsylvania town of Mechanicsburg, looking like something a store employee inadvertently left there while cleaning up -- not a fledgling attempt to collect the bulbs for safe disposal.
Compact fluorescent bulbs each contain roughly 5 milligrams of mercury, which health professionals say is tiny in relation to the amount in a glass thermometer. Using that estimate, almost 2 tons of mercury were in the 380 million sold last year. By comparison, about 50 tons of mercury are spewed into the air each year by the nation's coal-fired power plants.
The longer fluorescent tubes, in use since World War II, contain slightly more mercury per lamp, but recyclers typically collect them in bulk from the biggest users, businesses and factories, which are required by federal law to dispose of them properly.
Even if recycling efforts have been meager, environmentalists and government officials say it is important to balance the positives of CFLs against any negatives.
For instance, CFLs can curtail the need for energy and thereby cut pollution from power plants. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output.
"People should care about mercury, and if they do, they should be working to save energy wherever they can, and CFLs are a great answer to that," said John Rogers, a senior energy analyst for the Cambridge, Mass.-based group.
To recycle his spent CFLs, Rogers bags them, stores them in the basement and drops them off when his town, North Reading, Mass., holds a recycling event.
David Stotler, a railroad clerk from Maytown, Pa., does not know of a local option to recycle CFLs, so he threw out the one or two in his home that burned out.
The bulbs do not release mercury if they are used properly and recycled, and the EPA and state governments have written guidelines for how to clean up the mercury from a broken bulb.
(AP) - You know those compact fluorescent light bulbs that everyone is encouraging us to buy because the save energy and money? They have a downside when it comes to thinking green. It turns out the CFL s release a mercury-containing powder if they break. And the mercury-tinged powder can evaporate into the air and is tough to clean up. The government has written guidelines on how to clean up a broken bulb and the mercury it contains. There is also a site that provides information on the various state guidelines to clean up after a CFL breaks.
On the Net:
EPA guidelines on CFL site:
EPA list of state laws on CFL disposal site:
Most lamps in my house are outfitted with CFLs. But frankly, if each lasts only 4 years (rather less than expected and observed lifetime), I’m using less mercury than the old fever thermometers of my youth, which usually did not last even that long.
LED lighting will be the next big thing.
The R30 floods get used in the basement, kitchen and a few other hard to reach areas where I want longer running bulbs. Not a big fan of the curly bulbs.
I went to the county hazardous waste site a couple weeks and and took some bulbs, batteries and paint from the neighbors with me. And I did it in my 4 cylinder car!
As an engineer, I'm all about efficiency.
Why is it that conservatives get a bum rap as environmentalists?
Look for a “2112” moment in the future concerning incandescents.
“What, can this strange device be?”
“When I turn it, it gives forth its light”
“Its got frosted glass, that illuminates”
“What can this thing be in my sight”
“See how it glows just like sunlight”
“And joyously shines out its waves”
“Colors shine bright like the heavens”
“Or beams that fall, and cover, and bathe”
2008 copyright EJG Productions
Somebody find a free way to dispose of them properly and I’ll do it. Only liberals think anything is free though.
What’s the deal if they break from say, a lamp getting knocked over? 3 boys and 4 dogs, I’m not too keen on them, I still use the regular bulbs.
But if you break one, we’ll report you to the EPA, you might as well sell the house...
I got one years ago our of curiosity when they first came out. Pathetic light (although they increased wattage I see), long lasting, looks faggoty, it’ll be the only one I buy. I’ll switch to “alternative” power/fuel lights before I buy another one just because I don’t like being dictated to. There.
Old thermostats have a large amount of mercury contained in the tilt-switch..if the glass capsule is broken it would release the equivalent of 1000+ CFL bulbs.
Old mercury sphygmomanometers used in many hospitals contain a large column of mercury.
There’s about enough mercury in a CFL to fit on the tip of a sharp pencil. It would take 100s to equal the amount found in a typical thermometer.
In protest, smash one on the Capital steps - and watch the entire city arrive for the cleanup. (Would that be a terrorist attack?)
Do you realize that there is a huge problem with mercury contamination in New Jersey and the surrounding states. Prior to this supposed mandate all commercial properties contain fluorescent bulb lighting. First it was the ballasts that contained PCBs. That was rectified. However, fluorescent lighting was excluded. With an average company contained in 100,000 sq ft of space. There are approximately 12-24 bulbs changed per month. Multiply that by all the commercial buildings just in NYC. That’s a lot of bulbs going into the landfill to contaminate our water supply and fish. There is a solution. It’s called a ‘Bulb Eater’ that contains the bulb and allows the mercury to be safely disposed of as hazardous waste. The same can be done for home use bulbs. Just as the Ni Cd Batteries are collected and safely disposed of.
I agree that is a real problem. Breaking one at home is not that big of a deal.
There is a solution. Its called a Bulb Eater that contains the bulb and allows the mercury to be safely disposed of as hazardous waste. The same can be done for home use bulbs. Just as the Ni Cd Batteries are collected and safely disposed of.
Bingo! With this solution, people can quit worrying about it.
I like my smaller electric bills.
If you’ll go back an re-read my post, you’ll see that I’m in agreement with the proper disposal procedure. If people do that (think about it and do the right thing, as you state) then they don’t need to worry. That was my point.