I recently discovered that every time I throw a light bulb into my garbage can, I am breaking the law. When I’ve tossed a blown bulb as if I were shooting a basket, I have always had residual guilt about where it went beyond the trashcan, but didn’t know exactly how my shots might be affecting others and myself. My household basketball waste game profoundly affects the environment, not to mention the well-being of pregnant women and in turn, their newborn babies.
The CDC reports that mercury passed from mother to fetus can create brain damage resulting in mental retardation, incoordination, blindness, seizures, and the inability to speak. Mercury poison can also affect a newborn’s nervous and digestive systems. In 1997, the EPA listed mercury as number three on their list of hazardous substances. What surprised me then was that only seven states (California, Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin) have outlawed the practice of tossing our bulbs into the can.
If we want to decrease mercury from getting into our water, since it takes only one fluorescent bulb to pollute 6,000 gallons of water deeming it undrinkable, then we have to start recycling. The EPA reports that 187 incinerators across the country put out 70,000 total pounds of mercury into the environment each year, and when compared to the one teaspoon per lake pollution statistic above, it makes me wonder how can we avoid mercury’s poison—and what do we do with our old bulbs?
I believe it should be the responsibility of government and the light bulb manufacturers to provide us with a recycling program, but until corporations (and our government) write the needs of the environment into their mission statements (or into greener laws), it’s up to me to bridge the gap.
Unfortunately, Light Bulb Recycling posed itself as another corporate monger with a high-cost recycling program (I should have known with the .com in their web address), whereas many local hazardous waste sites will recycle old bulbs at no cost to the consumer.
I found Earth 911 (with .org at the end of theirs), which allows you to search for local recycling centers according to where you live and what item you need to recycle. In searching fluorescent bulbs, I found that many of my local hardware stores will dispose of my bulbs (as well as batteries and other toxic materials) and all it costs me is a trip to their store.
Green is in the air and it’s up to each of us to take that one extra step to recycle. Take a box, pad it for safety (not to break the bulb and let the mercury leak), and fill it with your old light bulbs. Then take them to your local recycling center and thank them (and yourself) for doing the dirty work of keeping our planet clean.