Truckee focuses on disposal of new light bulbs
Between the efforts from the local utility districts, Sierra Pacific Power, and environmental advocacy groups, many homeowners are making the switch to efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs.
But what happens to them when they die is another issue local officials want to address.
While the new bulbs last longer and use less electricity than standard incandescent light bulbs, they contain a small amount of mercury, and so shouldn’t just end up in the trash, according to officials.
“We have to catch up because there is this huge movement to change to CFLs [compact fluorescent lamps],” said Nichole Dorr, recycling coordinator for the Town of Truckee. “Luckily they last so long it hasn’t been a big issue yet, but in the next few years, we’ll see a lot more in the waste stream.”
Because the push has been made both locally and nationally to convert to compact fluorescents within the last few years, Dorr said she and others have a finite window to educate the public on what to do when the long-lasting bulbs finally burn out.
Sales of the bulbs have skyrocketed nationally this decade ” doubling last year to about 380 million after registering just 17,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Compact fluorescent bulbs each contain roughly 5 milligrams of mercury, which health professionals say is tiny in relation to the amount in a glass thermometer. Using that estimate, almost 2 tons of mercury were in the 380 million sold last year. By comparison, about 50 tons of mercury are spewed into the air each year by the nation’s coal-fired power plants.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a compact fluorescents of the same light output.
“People should care about mercury and if they do, they should be working to save energy wherever they can and CFLs are a great answer to that,” said John Rogers, a senior energy analyst for the Cambridge, Mass.-based group.
The bulbs do not release mercury if they are used properly and recycled, and the EPA and state governments have written guidelines for how to clean up the mercury from a broken bulb.
Kim N. Dietrich, a professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati, said the bigger concern is the hazard that would result if the mercury from millions of bulbs escapes into the air and waterways before working up the food chain.
“I’m just amazed that the government is not paying more attention to this,” Dietrich said.
” The Associated Press contributed to this report
The Eastern Regional Landfill, located on Cabin Creek Road off of Highway 89 South, collects compact fluorescent light bulbs free of charge to be sent off for recycling, Dorr said.
In 2007, they collected 2,699 pounds of the bulbs, she said.
From there, they are sent to a recycling plant in the bay area that recycles the metal fixtures, glass tubes, and captures the mercury vapor, Dorr said.
Rather than making the trip to the landfill each time a compact fluorescent bulb burns out, Dorr suggested keeping them intact in their original packaging until having enough to make the trip.
The key is not letting them break, Dorr said, but offered advice if one shatters on accident.
“First you should ventilate the area, and don’t vacuum because that can send the material into the air,” Dorr said. “Use latex gloves and sticky tape or a wet paper towel to pick up the fragment, and put it in a plastic bag, and put that in another plastic bag.”
She said the Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping pets, children and pregnant women away from a broken bulb because of the mercury.