Christopher Fountain at For What It’s Worth has this idea for disposing of used compact fluorescent light bulbs:
if voters from all over the country sent them to Washington – how about September 30th? – anonymously, we’d shut down the Capitol while hazmat teams ran around like chickens. I’m sending out a link to this suggestion to all my fellow whacko bloggers, in the hope that readers with dead, burned-out CFLs will save them and, after wiping off fingerprints, mail them on the 30th.
Please help spread the word: September 30 is Send Your Light Bulbs To Washington Day!
Waste Management Corporation’s “EarthMate” compact fluorescent light bulbs come in a postage-paid box so you can send them back for recycling after they’ve burned out. Included is a “Mercury VaporLok” container so that there will be no mercury spill if the light bulb breaks in transit.
Lloyd Alter at TreeHugger.com likes the idea, but adds this caveat:
Of course, this costs money; they are charging $34 for a four-pack of bulbs, where Home Depot is selling 14 bulbs for $40 and offers recycling. That is too big a spread.
If Mr. Alter really cared about the environment, this price difference would be a small price to pay. Environmentalists talk a good game, but it’s mostly just talk. Only 2% of compact fluorescent light bulbs are recycled in the United States, even though they contain mercury, a dangerous neurotoxin and one of the most toxic chemicals known to man.
The Environmental Protection Agency has a useful page on its web site: “Mercury-Containing Light Bulb (Lamp) Collection and Recycling Programs Where You Live“.
Recycling programs are not available in all areas.
According to the EPA:
Some household hazardous waste collection programs only collect these items once or twice a year, so residents will have to hold on to their light bulbs until the collection takes place.
The EPA fails to mention the best option for recycling your used compact fluorescent light bulbs: send them to Washington!
The address of EPA headquarters in Washington is:
Environmental Protection Agency
Ariel Rios Building
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
Send your light bulbs to Washington! They’re the experts. They’ll know what to do.
Proponents of compact fluorescent light bulbs claim they’re cheaper than incandescent light bubs, even though they cost more. “The energy savings over the life of the bulb will more than make up for the expensive purchase price,” is the typical claim.
Have you ever seen a cost calculation that includes the cost of recycling compact fluorescent light bulbs? I haven’t. Why is this relevant? Because CFL bulbs contain mercury, which is very hazardous to our environment. And because recycling these killer light bulbs can be very expensive. You can’t just throw them in your trash — that’s illegal in some states, in addition to being environmentally irresponsible.
LightBulbRecycling.com sells a compact fluorescent light bulb recycling kit for $107.95! Factor that price tag into your cost equation and there’s not a chance that compact fluorescent light bulbs are cheaper than incandescent light bulbs.
Are there cheaper recycling alternatives? You bet. The cheapest alternative is to send your used light bulbs to Washington — to your Congressman, to your Senator, or to EPA headquarters. For the cost of a zip-loc bag and a couple of postage stamps you can sleep at night knowing that your hazardous CFL bulbs are in the hands of the experts in Washington!
Awareness of the dangers from compact fluorescent light bulbs isn’t what it should be. How should people dispose of these dangerous light bulbs? This issue recently came before a committee of the Aiken County Council in South Carolina, according to a story in today’s August Chronicle:
The county has never had a formal procedure or policy concerning the bulbs, but County Administrator Clay Killian said the bulbs can be safely placed in a landfill or household trash, as long as one precaution is taken.
“They suggest, they being DHEC (the Department of Health and Environmental Control) and the people still writing the rules, you should put them in a plastic bag before you put it in your trash,” he said.
Such disposal, he said, is allowed because the bulbs are considered household hazardous waste, adding that “due to its low volume they can be disposed of in the landfill and regular trash.”
But the mercury from one compact fluorescent light bulb can pollute 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe levels for drinking. As a nation, we’re already putting 600 million compact fluorescent light bulbs into our landfills every year. That’s enough mercury to pollute 3.6 trillion gallons of water.
We really don’t need the fine citizens of Aiken County, or anybody else, adding to this problem. By all means put your used compact fluorescent light bulb in a plastic bag. But don’t put it in your trash. Put it in a small box and mail it to your Congressman or Senator in Washington. Congress is forcing us to buy these dangerous light bulbs. Let Congress handle disposing of them. They’re the experts. They’ll know what to do.