Mercury Makes Recycling Compact Fluorescents a Chore

HARRISBURGH, Pennsylvania, April 6, 2008 (ENS) – Compact fluorescent light bulbs can save up to 75 percent of the energy used by traditional light bulbs and save householders money too, but a lack of options on where to recycle the mercury-containing bulbs may make some consumers reluctant to adopt the popular technology.

To help encourage the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, and make it easier for the public to recycle spiral-shaped bulbs, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, is providing specialized receptacles to municipalities, small businesses and community organizations across the state hoping the experience will lead participants to continue with their own programs.

“If all of the households in Pennsylvania changed just one incandescent light bulb to an Energy Star qualified CFL, consumers could save $25.5 million annually on household electric bills and prevent nearly 382 millions pounds of greenhouse gas emissions each year,” said Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty.

“That is the power of energy efficiency, and we need to encourage people to take advantage of that power by adopting these safe and readily available technologies as soon as possible,” she said.

Each compact fluorescent bulb contains
a small amount of mercury, a toxic
metal. (Photo courtesy Florida DEP)

The state agency is partnering with 43 counties, townships, environmental groups and small businesses statewide in setting up CFL collection programs.

More than 110 containers were purchased from Pennsylvania firms AERC Recycling, based in Allentown, and Hellertown, Northampton County-based, Bethlehem Apparatus Company. Both companies shipped the receptacles directly to the participants for use in conjunction with Earth Day and other hazardous household waste collection events.

The AERC containers will hold 100-150 bulbs, and the Bethlehem Apparatus containers will hold slightly less than 100. Once the containers are filled, participants will ship the receptacles back to AERC or Bethlehem Apparatus for the physical recycling.

DEP invited counties, municipal governments, environmental groups and other organizations to host CFL recycling containers in publicly accessible buildings. To recycle a bulb, a consumer simply needs to hand it over to a trained employee, who slides it into the container.

For those residents in need of CFL recycling services, the department reminds residents that they can also recycle the bulbs at household hazardous waste collection events in their communities.

Because the fact is CFLs must be treated as hazardous waste because they contain mercury.

Small amounts of mercury are necessary components of compact fluorescent light bulbs and all types of fluorescent lights, including those that have been safely used in homes, offices and commercial and retail establishments for years.

CFLs contain an average of five milligrams of mercury, or about the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. By comparison, a mercury fever thermometer usually contains about 500 milligrams of mercury.

To find a recycling center that takes CFLs, calling the local government office of solid waste or log onto Earth 911, which will help you locate your closest facility. They also have an automated phone information system at 800-CLEAN-UP.

If you break a CFL, no need to worry, but care must be taken to clean it up safely. Most bulbs are damaged when they are cold, and the mercury is likely to adhere to the bulb’s debris. To be safe, ventilate the area, the U.S. EPA suggests. Using rubber or latex gloves, gather up the ballast and broken glass with disposable paper towels. Wipe the floor carefully with more paper toweling, then double bag everything in plastic zip bags. Dispose as hazardous waste.

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