California diverts fluorescents, mercury from landfills
The state agency is collaborating with the U.S. EPA under the National Partnership for Environmental Priorities (NPEP) program. Cal/EPA, the first state agency to join the partnership, wants to lead the nation in continued efforts to remove mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause kidney and brain damage, from the environment.
“The problem with the [compact fluorescent] bulbs is that they’ll break before they get to the landfill,” says John Skinner, executive director of the Solid Waste Association of North America, the trade group for the people who handle trash and recycling. “Workers may be exposed to very high levels of mercury when that happens,” he says.
Because mercury is persistent in the environment and highly toxic in minute quantities, the EPA launched the NPEP Mercury Challenge in 2004 to focus on the elimination of mercury.
Cal/EPA has committed to reducing mercury through its own California Take-It-Back Partnership, a collaboration of government, private business, and nonprofit organizations that provides free, local and convenient ways for California residents to recycle everyday household wastes such as batteries, fluorescent lamps and cell phones.
Since the beginning of 2007, about nine million fluorescent bulbs have been purchased in California, preventing the release of 1.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide compared with traditional incandescent bulbs. While compact fluorescents are extremely energy efficient, they contain trace amounts of mercury that the partnership wants to keep out of California’s environment.
When the time comes to replace a compact fluorescent bulb, Cal/EPA advises sealing the old bulb in a plastic bag and taking it to the nearest household hazardous waste disposal site.
NPEP, a voluntary federal program, aims to reduce the use or release of four million pounds of toxic chemicals in the United States by 2011.