CFL recycling: are you switched on?

Compact fluorescent lamps fall under the WEEE Directive, but are all too easily thrown away with ordinary household waste. Nigel Harvey advises how greater compliance can be achieved

Recycling may not be quite as ingrained in the average British householder's subconscious as it is in those of other countries, particularly our Scandinavian neighbours, but attitudes have changed dramatically in recent years and recycling is becoming the norm rather than the extreme.

There is one recycling stream in particular where more attention from local authorities is now being focused. The WEEE Directive covers a wide range of electrical and electronic products including TVs, DVD and video recorders, IT equipment, and medical devices.

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) - more commonly known as low-energy or energy-saving light bulbs - also come under the scope of the directive and are all too easily thrown away with ordinary household waste. However, as these light bulbs contain a minute amount of mercury, they are classed as hazardous waste and need to be disposed of via specialist recycling methods.

Waste arisings
With the continued phase out of traditional incandescent light bulbs, CFLs are becoming a common feature in homes across the country. And although they have a longer life than incandescents (usually around six years), many are already being returned for disposal and over the next few years many more will be returned as the current generation of CFLs reach end-of-life.

There are 1,100 civic amenity sites nationwide where the public can safely dispose of their waste CFLs, but this is not nearly enough when the future volume of lamps returning for recycling is taken into account. At Recolight we have responded to the need to improve the infrastructure for this waste stream.

Light bulb disposal is often overlooked, but it's just as important as correctly disposing of batteries or fridges. We have been installing containers for the collection of CFLs from the public in areas where the facilities are not available and where they are easily accessible to the consumer.

Pilot scheme
One initiative we have undertaken is a pilot scheme with councils in Peterborough and Cambridge to provide collection bins for end-of-life low-energy light bulbs and waste batteries at a number of council-run bring sites and retailer sites in the area.

These bins have been in place for two months, and the response is encouraging. The availability of the facilities is helping to highlight the importance of recycling CFLs, and the public are responding accordingly.

We have also carried out research that found 60% of householders would dispose of CFLs in their rubbish or recycling bins, with just one in three (28%) saying they would take their bulbs to a civic amenity site. These findings are easier to understand considering the fact that 51% are unaware that CFLs contain minute amounts of mercury, but 88% of those surveyed said they had at least one CFL in their home.

The containers being used for the trial in Peterborough and Cambridge have been constructed to accept waste CFLs while taking every possible step to minimise breakage. Clearly labelled, the containers are placed among other recycling bins at the bring sites. Collection containers are in place at six locations in Peterborough and at five locations in Cambridge.

Light bulbs are the most common item of electrical equipment in the home, and while the number of bulbs reaching end of life is relatively low, it is important to encourage the recycling of CFLs now. Local authorities can also look at ways of engaging with communities to encourage people to recycle light bulbs. At Recolight we will soon be able to help by offering councils facilities for the collection of waste householder energy saving light bulbs.

Nigel Harvey is chief executive of Recolight

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