CFL recycling problem update
So I called Svensk Glasåtervinning and asked. They said this is still a big problem for them. They had found elevated mercury values in several locations of their recycling facility. I asked about the health of their workers and they said they had been tested for Hg but were OK. The person I spoke with pointed out however, that by the time the glass arrives at the factory, much will already have evaporated and possibly affected the trucking entrepreneurs who collect the containers. I suspect also those using the local recycling facility – some of which are indoors (in residential buildings).
I asked if they had tested the containers (in Sweden called “glass-igloos” due to their round shape). He said that doing such a test had not occurred to them, but that it was a good idea to test at least a few of the thousands of igloos used around Sweden. (I’m thinking that if containers are contaminated by Hg that they may keep contaminating ever new batches of glass, at least in the cold season when it does not evaporate?) Some of that glass is turned into new food grade glass, some into what we call “glass wool” (not sure of the English word) for house insulation.
He said that they do not get reimbursed for all the extra risk, cost and trouble that Hg contamination causes to their glass recycling, and that they were rather frustrated with those who have the producer responsibility not having done enough to inform the general public and supply enough easily accessible recycling opportunities for CFLs.
When it comes to outdoor recycling stations, they are prohibited from doing so by the fact that Hg is classed as hazardous waste, and we can’t have hazardous waste containers sitting unattended on the sidewalk. And so many of those who are not fortunate enough to have a separate bulb recycling bin in their residential building, or a ‘red box’ collected by the local municipality for home owners, throw their CFLs in the glass container instead as many don’t have time, knowledge, opportunity or transportation to take them to an out-of-the-way recycling plant or to one of the often equally out-of-the-way retail chains who collect bulbs for proper recycling (after which the Hg is stored indefinitely).
So I called El-Kretsen, the organisation that has been appointed in Sweden to handle the so-called producer responsibility (according to the WEEE directive). The representative said they are working hard to remedy the situation (and have a PR webpage bragging about this). I suggested they mail all residential building owners in Sweden with information on the importance of adding (and paying a little extra for) a hazardous waste bin in their recycling rooms, information on how to handle mercury contamination, and signs to put up to inform residents. He seemed to think this right-to-the-source approach was way too much work and referred to their their own information- and annual electronic waste collection campaign.
CFL breakage information
After hearing from an aquaintance spotting someone drop a CFL in a supermarket, I thought I’d find out how the leading food chains in Sweden handle such accidents.
Ica’s website has a CFL info page (complete with the usual propaganda lies) that includes info on both recycling and what to do in case of accidents. I called their HQ to ask if it happens that lamps break in their stores and she said “Yes”. I asked if their staff was informed on what to do and she said they were actually planning an information campaign in a few weeks.
Coop’s website only refers to a recycling site for what to do with CFLs after they burn out, nothing about how to handle mercury spills. I called and asked. They said information has been sent out to stores, but when I called one of the biggest Coop supermarkets in Stockholm, the manager could not recall having seen any such information. He said there were no breakages that he was aware of. I asked what they would do if there were and he said “Just sweep up the pieces and throw in the garbage, I guess”- and also confessed to just tossing burned-out CFLs in the bin at home. I informed him of the mercury content and that mercury is hazardous waste. This jolted a memory that perhaps he’d heard something to that effect… I asked if he could make sure to inform his staff from now on, but he said such an incentive needs to come from HQ. So I tipped HQ off that their biggest competitor is having a campaign soon.
When you think about it, isn’t it rather stunning and alarming that a fairly easily breakable product containing mercury is sold together with food?