Recycling Compact Fluorescent Lamps

010At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am once again posting a critical article on another recycling topic.   This time I’m going to gripe about my issue with Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL’s).  In our personal lives, most of us don’t give much thought to the recycling of CFL’s in our homes, because they last a long time, and we rarely need to dispose of them anyway.  We think we’re doing a good deed and being environmentally responsible, because we know that CFL’s use less energy than incandescent bulbs.  What we don’t think about, and what is not clearly explained on most packaging materials, is that the mercury and other toxic substances in the CFLs  can have a harmful impact on human health and the environment if broken or not disposed of properly.   What is also not clearly spelled out is “How do we go about recycling CFL’s and why is it important to do so?”

Personally, I think that all packaging materials for CFLs should clearly state this information.   They should also clearly indicate the health hazards in the event that a bulb breaks during handling and the mercury vapors get released, especially if children come into contact with these broken CFL’s. In my opinion this information is vaguely stated and lacking clear references to other sources we should go to for more complete information.

On the package of EcoBulbs in my drawer at work it says the following:

Manage in accordance with disposal laws. �

Oh really? What disposal laws?  On the side of the package it also states the following:

THE ECOBULB PLUS DIFFERENCE: All components that make up ECOBULB PLUS CFLs have been independently tested to reduce/restrict hazardous materials such as cadmium, lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, PBBs, and PBDEs.  The low mercury content is also solid (amalgam) instead of liquid.  These bulbs are RoHS compliant (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) which makes them safer and more earth-friendly than standard CFLs.

Now tell me… how many people really understand what that paragraph means?

Yes, we understand that CFLs offer us significant energy savings in the long run, but we still need to be more clearly informed of the safety and environmental hazards.   The phrasing on the package I have in my office gives the buyer a false sense of safety, and it provides no information on the environmental impact if the bulbs are not recycled or disposed of properly.

I am no different than most people.  I rarely think about recycling light bulbs. It’s only been recently in the last few years that I even started using CFL’s in my home.   Not until the other day when I was out cleaning and came upon an entire waste basket full of CFLs at a client’s place did I wonder “Hummmm, what should I do with these?”  The client would have had me toss them into the trash where they would ultimately end up on the landfill, but being the OCD recycler type that I am, I neatly placed the bulbs in a bag to deal with another day.  Several weeks later they are still in the bag in my car, and I’m still wondering how I should go about disposing of them.  I also have a few CFL’s in a bag at my own house that I’m not sure what to do with.  That is why I decided to finally educate myself on the matter, and write a post about it.

Mike Adams of Health Ranger Natural News writes the following:

“ According to (no longer an online resource) each year an estimated 600 million fluorescent lamps are disposed of in U.S. landfills, amounting to 30,000 pounds of mercury waste. Astonishingly, that’s almost half the amount of mercury emitted into the atmosphere by coal-fired power plants each year. It only takes 4mg of mercury to contaminate up to 7,000 gallons of freshwater, meaning that the 30,000 pounds of mercury thrown away in compact fluorescent light bulbs each year is enough to pollute nearly every lake, pond, river and stream in North America (not to mention the oceans).”

This is what Mike writes about Mercury:  “Mercury (also called ‘quicksilver’) is a heavy, silvery transition metal most commonly found in thermometers, barometers, and other scientific apparatus. It is used in the electrical industry and in laboratory and medical instruments. Mercury is a known neurotoxin, and elevated blood mercury levels may lead to retardation and deformities in children. Chest pains, dyspnea,  coughing, hemoptysis, and sometimes interstitial pneumonitis leading to death may follow acute inhalation exposure to mercury vapor. In America, 1 in 6 children born every year have been exposed to mercury levels so high that they are potentially at risk for learning disabilities, motor skill impairment and short-term memory loss.”

Mike’s entire articles is at the link below::

I know that a large segment of the population would dismiss these warnings as exaggerated scaremongering, but I’m not one of them.  After giving it some thought, this is what I am going to do:

I will accumulate a bag full of CFLs and then take them to Jerry’s Home Improvement the next time I go there, which is frequently, so it’s not out of my way.  I also plan to print out a bunch of   Recycler’s Guides to Fluorescent Bulbs , that Lane Country Public Works Waste Management Division puts out and then I will send a brochure to our clients next time I send out invoices so they will know where to take their spent CFLs.  In our next newsletter at the end of the year I will probably mention how to properly recycle CFLs as well as batteries, another pet peeve of mine.

If I find a lot of CFLs again in a client’s waste basket, then I’ll probably leave a note saying that these bulbs need to be disposed of at a CFL site since they contain mercury.  I’ll mention Jerry’s Home Improvement Center or other location where they can take them.   If you want to score some points with your client then you could offer to do it for them, I suppose, unless you think it will just annoy them, which is highly possible. Perhaps you could keep the CFLs in a bag in the janitor’s closet or supply area with a note on it saying:  “I will recycle these CFLs for you at Jerry’s Home Improvement when the bag is full.  Your Janitor.”  If the client sees it, they might feel guilty enough to do the responsible thing themselves and take them to Jerry’s next time they go there.

The point is, there are still many businesses and individuals who can do a lot more to recycle responsibly, and CFLs are just another one of those pesky items that absolutely should not end up in the landfill.

In my next post on recycling, I think I’ll talk about batteries.  Until then, check out these websites for very good information on the health hazards and proper disposal of CFLs.

Staff writer, Jan Nash



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