Minnesota faces a huge mercury pollution problem from CFL bulbs

Mercury-laden compact fluorescent light bulbs will overwhelm recycling programs in Minnesota, according to Dave Dempsey at CleanTechnica.com:

A surge in the number of mercury-bearing energy-efficient light bulbs in use in Minnesota is expected to overwhelm recycling programs in the next few years and there’s no plan yet on how to recycle more of them…

The number of recycled compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) available for recycling in the state is expected to rise from 346,000 in 2008 to 2,419.000 in 2011 as federal and state energy efficiency mandates kick in. Minnesota’s 2008 CFL recycling rate was one of the highest among the states at an estimated 37%, and much of the Gopher State has nearby recycling options.

But many of the state’s consumers aren’t aware that CFLs need to be recycled to contain the mercury. While 73.1% of the state’s households use at least one CFL, only 39% of respondents to a survey knew that recycling of the bulbs is required by Minnesota law.

Local household hazardous waste (HHW) collection programs receive the majority of Minnesota’s recycled CFLs, with home improvement and hardware stores taking back the bulk of the rest. Because most of the local HHW programs are largely funded by county taxes, it’s unclear whether or how funding to expand them will be made available.

If the state’s recycling rate doesn’t improve, Minnesotans will soon be throwing over 1,500,000 CFL bulbs in the trash every year.  That’s enough mercury to pollute 1,000,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels every year in each of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.



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2 responses to “Minnesota faces a huge mercury pollution problem from CFL bulbs

  1. Yes there is no doubt that dumped CFLs are a looming and ignored problem.

    Deposit refund schemes might help more than voluntary recycling
    – that is, you pay extra for the lights, but get the extra paid back, when you return the lights.

    That is politically unattractive though, in adding to already more expensive lights
    (remembering also that politicians are happy to push the ordinary cheaper CFLs that have a low so-called power factor, which simply means they cause the power stations to generate twice as much energy than what it says on your CFLs – or your meter – though of course consumers end up having to pay)

    There is also the question of whether people would
    return the lights anyway – a big refund means having a big deposit in the first place, and more expensive lights to buy.
    European countries have experimented with various options, but compliance remains low.

    Perhaps this is not surprising:
    Compare with batteries,
    batteries are small and easy enough to carry back to a store for recycling, but again it’s rarely done in the USA or EU – bigger burned out and possibly messy CFLs are hardly more attractive to return.

    Some van or other collecting spent CFLs (perhaps with other items) directly from households,
    or from waste cylinders placed near housing estates,
    is another option,
    but of course again adds to cost.


  2. pat

    you know what this reminds me of? those bottle caps that aren’t recyclable.

    why does it remind me of that? because there are posters and charts everywhere, and a sticker on the recycling garbage can, telling you to recycle the 2 liter bottle, but not the cap.

    now that’s irrelevant, but what i’m getting at is that if the government wants people to recycle these light bulbs properly, then they aught to tell them what is supposed to be done. i, for example, had no idea what was supposed to be done with cfl lightbulbs before reading some of these articles, but i sure know what to do with caps!

    so its misleading to say that “only 39% of respondents to a survey knew that recycling of the bulbs is required by Minnesota law”, and not even think of why that may be! because they are not told how to dispose of them!


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