New bulbs far from perfect

  • Mar. 11, 2011 7:00 p.m.

By Alex Rawlings–Those compact fluorescent bulbs that have become increasing popular lately have more problems than at first view. Yes, they save electricity, but getting rid of them is difficult, and disposing of broken ones a nightmare. A partial ban on the sale of incandescent bulbs (75 and 100 watt) on January 1st, as well as a growing movement towards energy-efficiency has led many of us to buy compact fluorescent lights (CFL). What hasn’t really been talked about are the risks associated with the use and disposal of the bulbs, which contain the heavy metal mercury, which is extremely toxic and must be handled with care. According to Health Canada’s website, the bulbs, while only containing a small amount of mercury, can pose a health hazard if broken, and if they are not disposed of correctly, can hurt the environment. So what are we to do with the burned out or broken bulbs? Currently in BC, there are about 180 locations that accept CFLs for recycling and disposal, however none of those depots are here on island. Not yet. But that’s about to change. Tim Deschamp, superintendent of waste management for the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District, said islanders can expect to see a recycling depot on the islands soon, possibly within the next couple of weeks. According to Mr. Deschamp, the contract for the recycling depot is being reviewed and he expects it to be signed and to have a depot set up shortly afterward. “The depot will provide the boxes (needed for proper disposal and transportation) to customers… and then we will do the rest,” said Mr. Deschamp. “After the bulbs are dropped off we will contact (Product Care) the stewardship in charge of the recycling and they will have the bulbs transported to Ontario where the mercury is recovered, and the glass component is recycled.”While the depot will ensure the intact bulbs are disposed of safely, there are some steps to take if the bulb breaks in your home. Health Canada advises that if a bulb is broken, the area around it should be ventilated for at least 15 minutes before being cleaned. It says broken bulbs should not be vacuumed or swept up, as that can result in spreading mercury through the household. Rather, Health Canada recommends using stiff pieces of cardboard to gather the shards, and sticky tape such as duct or masking tape to pick up the remaining smaller pieces. The floor should be wiped down with a disposable wet rag after all shards are removed. Use gloves if you have them, and do not throw the broken bulb into the garbage. The glass and rags should be put into an air tight glass container and taken to the nearest recycling facility. If the break should happen over carpet, the vacuum cleaner used should be thoroughly cleaned with wet disposable rags as it will be contaminated with mercury. For more information visit Health Canada’s website at and search compact fluorescent bulbs.

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