Mercury Rising
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

If your compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) resources don’t yet have a recycling program in place, chances are they will in the near future. Consumer demand, plus the possibility of state and/or federal mandates, is driving the issue to the top of manufacturers’ agendas.

    The underlying reason is the environmental hazard posed by the disposal of spent lamps and ballasts. CFLs present a potential threat to humans and the ecosystem due to their mercury content, the irreplaceable element that makes the CFL such an efficient light source requiring two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent bulbs.
Recyclepak from Osram Sylvania.
The Recyclepak is at the heart of Osram Sylvania’s new recycling initiative.

    Typically, CFLs contain an average of 5 milligrams of mercury sealed within glass tubing. (By comparison, old home thermometers contain some 500 milligrams of mercury and many manual thermostats contain up to 3,000 milligrams.) While mercury is not released when the bulbs are in use, it is when the glass tubing is broken. As a result, like paint, batteries, thermostats and other hazardous household items, CFLs need to be disposed of properly, so the remaining mercury is not dispersed into the atmosphere when the bulb is crushed.

    Osram Sylvania is leading the charge with its company-sponsored CFL recycling program. Introduced last November in partnership with Veolia Environmental Services, the initiative provides Sylvania distributors with a means of efficiently accessing a recycling alternative. The heart of the program is Recyclepak, a prepaid packaging system for the safe and convenient shipping of spent lamps and ballasts. Retailers who take part in this voluntary program can order Recyclepak shipping supplies (including boxes, pails and drums) and then simply fill, seal and return spent CFLs via the prepaid shipping label. The Recyclepaks

are then delivered to one of four Veolia recycling facilities, where the CFLs are recycled according to the highest standards in the industry. Retailers can also sell the Recyclepaks directly to the consumer and leave the shipping to them.

     Other CFL makers are not far behind. Satco, for example, reports that it will soon partner with a major recycling company to provide a means for packing and shipping CFLs to a recycling center. “States are going to mandate it,” says Brian Brandes, Satco’s Vice President of Product Development. “California has proposed legislation that will require manufacturers to supply a means of recycling the lamps. There’s a lot going on in that regard right now.”

    Susan Bloom, Director of Corporate Communications for Philips Lighting points to efforts on the part of the National Electrical Manufacturers Assn. (NEMA). “NEMA is currently working with the EPA to help spearhead national initiatives related to the disposal of these products,” she explains. “As an industry, we want to help consumers dispose of them properly, so that they leave the smallest possible footprint on the environment. We are working at the national level to help structure programs that would be both easy for consumers to engage in, as well as effective in increasing the nation’s level

of disposal and recycling.”

    Until that time, however, CFL makers recommend that consumers call their local townships for rules and regulations relating to the disposal of CFLs. Other resources for disposal and recycling information include, and (800) CLEAN-UP.

Quick Tip

Consumers who perceive CFL disposal as a “hassle” may be turned off to the otherwise efficient, earth-friendly light source. Consider offering recycling services as an incentive to both boost the technology’s profile and make your store the destination for bulb purchases. Plus, a discount toward a customer’s next bulb purchase for each bulb brought in for recycling could certainly help sweeten the deal.

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