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Alarming fluorescent bulb recycling stats, hopeful solutions

Friday, September 4, 2009
This article on mercury in fluorescent bulbs from recently drew my interest. In the piece, writer Laurie Grant lays out some staggering statistics:

"Despite the recent growth of lamp recycling, 71 percent of mercury-containing lamps used by businesses and 98 percent used in homes still are not being recycled...Each year, the lighting industry uses approximately 9 tons (8.2 metric tons) of mercury in manufacturing energy-efficient lamps. Of the 514 million lamps per year that enter the solid waste stream, about 142 million come from private homes and 372 million come from businesses, the government, and institutions."

I also saw a journal article from the New Jersey DEP that estimated that two to four tons of mercury is released yearly from throwing away lamps. Compared to the millions of tons of trash and other waste that is generated every year this amount may not seem like a lot, but there is a whole lot of destructive power in just a tiny amount of mercury. According to NEWMOA, just one gram of it leaked in from the atmosphere can contaminate a 20 acre lake for an extended period of time. Even if it's just two tons, that is still a whole lot of grams...

These stats are sobering, but there is hope. Over the last few years there has been a noticeable shift in bulb recycling awareness and practice, with more and more facilities buying into the idea. Government agencies like the federal EPA and many state DEQs have furthered this cause by implementing rules that mandate the proper disposal of bulbs and imposing fines for those who don't comply. Large corporations like CB Richard Ellis and Marriott have led the way by developing their own company-wide bulb recycling programs, providing a good example to others while also keeping a whole lot of mercury out of the environment. However, my hat goes off to the smaller mom and pop businesses that we work with that decide to recycle even though there are no mandates coming in from the corporate offices.

Luckily, because recycling a bulb is less than 1% of the cost of buying and powering it, facilities don't have to spend much in order to have a big impact on the environment. And there are other incentives to keep in mind, like the attraction of new customers through promotion of your green efforts, as well as the satisfaction of your existing ones. Finally, pricey fines and PR from violations are never good, and spending just a little to properly dispose of bulbs eliminates this risk.

I would encourage you to check out the multiple recycling solutions available on the market so that your facility can join the ever-growing number of companies and organizations that are trying to help keep the environment clean by recycling their bulbs. Bulb recycling isn't hard or expensive, and it's simply the right thing to do.


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