Mercury and CFL's: Stop Whining and Recycle


One of the main arguments against banning incandescent bulbs in the States (everyone else is doing it) is fear of all that mercury getting into the environment. No matter that the amount of mercury is small and getting smaller, or that more mercury goes into teeth than into CFLs. The fact is, they are recyclable and none has to get into the environment. Fluorescent Lamp Recyclers of Ayr, Ontario is an example. Every day they take 20,000 fluorescents, (mainly tubes that have more mercury than CFLs, crush them, bake the residue to vaporize the mercury, and condense it out. According to the Star:

"The secret to recycling fluorescent lamps," shouts [owner] Tom Maxwell, "is getting the powder separated from the mercury."

Beside him, a worker is slowly making his way through crates of light bulbs, loading one at a time onto a conveyor built that will pull them up into a metal tank to be broken.

From there, they will be separated into all their separate pieces – aluminium, glass, calcium phosphate, and most importantly, mercury.

"We start out with hazardous products," says Maxwell proudly, pointing to a giant garbage bin outside filled with glittering glass shards that resemble snow, "and we end up with clear, recyclable materials."

They then ship the mercury to Pennsylvania where another company triple distills it and sells it back to lamp manufacturers to go back into bulbs. Last year they kept 5 million fluorescents out of landfills, saving 100 kilograms of mercury.

Unfortunately, that is only 7% of the fluorescents thrown out, so the issue is not whether they can be recycled but how to ensure that more actually are. Perhaps the answer is this:

1) Improve the packaging; replace the blister paks with cardboard that can be flattened and saved;

2) Stick a deposit on them so that people take them back when they go to buy a replacement.

3) recycle the returned bulbs. Result: No more mercury in the environment.::The Star