Saturday, January 04, 2014

Recycling Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs

As we rang in the New Year in Canada, a partial ban on incandescent light bulbs came into effect.  The full ban will come into effect at the end of this year.  For now, it is illegal to import 100W and 75W bulbs.  Next year, it will also be illegal to import 60W and 40W bulbs.  (Are there no domestic producers?  If not, will we see domestic producers popping up?  Or is the article misleading, and the ban applies to non-imported bulbs as well?).  Luckily, not many seem to know about it, so if you want to stock up, you might still have a pretty good chance.  I find 100W bulbs too bright for any room in my current dwelling, and 60W is not that much lower than 75W, so I'll be alright for now.

But once the full ban comes into effect, we'll have to buy compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs after our stocks of incandescent bulbs run out (which could take a while, since the bulbs don't burn out that quickly).  Aside from sharp glass if they're broken, incandescent bulbs pose no health or environmental threat.  CFLs, on the other hand, contain mercury, which causes health problems after too much exposure.  Thus, they must be properly disposed of, lest the mercury be released into the environment.

I haven't had many CFLs go on me, so I haven't had to deal with the disposal issue that often.  In fact, I'm having trouble recalling the last time I lost one.  Maybe I never have.  If I did, then I didn't dispose of it properly, because I would have had to go out of the way to dispose of it and I would certainly remember that.  As I'm writing this blog post, my desk is being illuminated by compact fluorescent bulbs.  When they finally expire (I've had them for 4-5 years by now), I'll be sure to dispose of them properly.

According to the article I linked to above, many besides myself do not dispose of the bulbs properly.  This reminds me of recycling pop cans in Ontario, something I wrote about a long time ago.  Other provinces charge a deposit on pop cans, which is given back to the consumer when the pop cans are returned for recycling.  Some states in the US do this as well, but for some reason, Ontario doesn't.  Ontario does charge a deposit for beer cans and bottles, however, and the return rates are much higher for beer bottles and cans than for pop cans (a few years ago, wine bottles were added to the list of things that customers pay a deposit on).  This suggests to me that even a small deposit of a mere dime (not worth much these days) is enough incentive to significantly increase the return rate.

Maybe the amount of mercury that gets released by a broken CFL is insignificant.  But if it could potentially result in serious negative consequences, one wonders whether it wouldn't be worth considering a deposit on them that would operate similarly to the deposit systems currently in place for beer bottles and cans.  Then again, someone wouldn't kill a six pack of compact fluorescent bulbs in an afternoon like they could a six pack of beer (one of the supposed upsides of CFLs, aside from lower energy consumption, is longer life), so maybe it wouldn't be worth the infrastructure.  On the other hand, if they intake is so low, the infrastructure demands would also be low, making it easy for this or that retail outlet to fit one into some corner of their store.


I fully support the move to more energy efficient means of illumination, but I've largely been disappointed with the quality of light from CFLs.  The colour is often not to my liking, sometimes there's a noticeable flicker, and sometimes they just take too long to light up.  I'm also nervous about breaking them by accident--they're rather fragile--and inhaling the mercury vapour.  Perhaps these things will get better in time.  Or perhaps CFLs will just fall out of favour as LED lighting, which is even more energy efficient, takes over.

No comments: