Sunday, April 15, 2012

Proper Disposal of Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs



All fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury that can pose a health risk if broken bulbs are improperly handled or waste bulbs are not correctly disposed of or recycled.

Governmental agencies in the UK and European Union have declared the demise of incandescent light bulbs over the next five years, so recent news reports publicizing the presence of mercury in compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) has sparked alarm among environmentally-concerned consumers. A broken bulb would surely pose a risk and proper disposal of burnt out bulbs problematic.

CFLs use a phosphor-coated glass envelope that contains a mixture of mercury, argon or another noble gas, and a tungsten coil. Power applied to the tungsten element in the bulb creates a stream of electrons that bounce around inside the bulb and excite the mercury vapor. The energized mercury electrons produce ultraviolet light that is absorbed by the phosphor coating, which is re-emitted as visible light. Newer CFLs contain around five milligrams of mercury. Industry experts point out that much more mercury is generated in producing the power needed by an incandescent bulb than that released by use and disposal of energy saving compact fluorescents.

The United Kingdom Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) tells consumers that while mercury certainly isn't good for you, the levels found in a CFL shouldn't be cause for harm. What little risk that exists can be mitigated by proper cleanup and disposal of broken bulbs. DEFRA and the US EPA have similar suggestions for cleaning up broken bulbs.

Advice for Cleaning Up After a Broken CFL:

* Leave the room and ventilate for 15 minutes or more.
* While wearing rubber gloves, scoop up glass shards and debris from the bulb with a stiff piece of cardboard.
* Avoid creating or inhaling dust from the broken bulb.
* Don't use a vacuum or broom to clean up after a broken bulb on hard surfaces.
* Place the remains in a plastic bag.
* Wipe up the immediate area with a damp paper towel put it in the bag as well and seal it.
* If you need to use a vacuum on carpet, place the filter bag in a plastic bag as well.
* Wash your hands after finishing the clean up.
* Check with local authorities on procedures for disposal. Mercury is a hazardous household waste and can't be thrown out with ordinary household trash in some areas.

There are no facilities to collect and recycle compact fluorescent lightbulbs, fluorescent light tubes and incandescent lightbulbs in Malaysia. Until the Ministry of Housing and Local Government takes the citizens' and consumers' concerns seriously, the only option we have is to wrap broken lightbulbs in paper or plastic bags (to prevent leakage of dangerous chemicals), stuff them into glass jars or tins, mark "Danger! Broken Bulb!" on the jar or tin, and put them in the trash.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs are only one of many developing technologies available to improve lighting efficiency. Improvements, for instance, have been made in the output of bulbs using light-emitting diodes (LED) technology.

(Information extracted from: Thank you to MNS Member Dr. Gan Siowck Lee for proposing the topic and forwarding relevant information to us)

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