Monday, May 19, 2008


MARC LEVY, ASSOCIATED PRESS It's a message being drummed into the heads of homeowners everywhere: Swap out those incandescent lights with longer-lasting compact fluorescent bulbs and cut your electric use. Governments, utilities, environmentalists and, of course, retailers everywhere are spreading the word. Few, however, are volunteering to collect the mercury-laced bulbs for recycling -- despite what public officials and others say is a potential health hazard if the hundreds of millions of them being sold are tossed in the trash and end up in landfills and incinerators.

For now, much of the nation has no real recycling network for CFLs, despite the ubiquitous PR campaigns, rebates and giveaways encouraging people to adopt the swirly darlings of the energy-conscious movement. Recyclers and others guess that only a small fraction of CFLs sold in the United States are recycled, while the rest are put out with household trash or otherwise discarded.

"In most parts of the country, it requires getting in your car and burning up your gas and going out of your way, a long ways, and people are unlikely to do this," said Paul Abernathy, the executive director of the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers in Calistoga, Calif.

Sales of the bulbs have skyrocketed this decade -- doubling last year to about 380 million after registering just 17,000 in 2000, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Recycling efforts, though, are spotty at best.

Some communities are arranging special CFL drop-off events while some city or county hazardous waste collection facilities accept them. Swedish retailer IKEA collects the bulbs at its 34 U.S. stores and manufacturer Osram Sylvania offers a mail-in program. In Nevada, customers of Sierra Pacific Power Co. can now take used CFLs to eight landfills to be recycled. A few governments have targeted retailers.

The city of Madison, Wis., requires retailers that sell the bulbs to also collect them for recycling, although stores can charge a fee for it. Maine and Vermont fund programs that distribute collection bins to retailers, from neighborhood hardware stores to Wal-Marts, and get the bulbs to recyclers, either by pickup or mail.

Pennsylvania spent $8,000 to distribute white plastic buckets to several dozen businesses, community organizations and local governments that wanted them. The buckets come with a seal-tight lid and the state pays the postage to send them to a recycler.