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Councils' 'just throw it out' advice on toxic lightbulbs

Ecologist

10th March, 2010

Ecologist investigation reveals three-quarters of London councils giving out wrong advice on the safe disposal of mercury-containing compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)

The majority of local authorities in London are advising residents to throw compact fluorescent lightbulbs in their general waste, despite the hazard posed by their mercury content.

The Ecologist telephoned the call centres of each London Borough and asked whether energy saving bulbs had to be taken to a special recycling centre, or whether they could be placed in with normal refuse.

Seventy-five per cent of Boroughs said that CFLs can just be thrown away with regular garbage.

This is despite the fact that each Borough contains, or has access to, a waste disposal site capable of recycling energy saving bulbs and other hazardous electrical items.

CFLs last up to 15 times longer than normal light bulbs and use a third of the energy of an equivalent filament lamp. However, each bulb contains a tiny amount of mercury that can be an environmental hazard if not disposed of properly.


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The Ecologist investigation found some council representatives, despite being aware of the availability of recycling facilities, chose to actively discourage their use.

'If it’s just one thing, no-one’s going to drive all the way down to the [recycling] centre,' an operator on Brent Council’s helpline commented, while a representative from Richmond misunderstood the point of recycling CFLs completely:
'Now, I just put mine straight in the trash; there is a recycling centre, but the energy you waste in getting there is greater than saved by recycling it... there's nothing to stop it going into the landfill.'

Online information was also misleading: only 53 per cent of council websites had correct information regarding light bulb disposal available to the public online.

Read more in the full investigation

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