Washington State law requires that all mercury-containing lights be recycled, as mercury is a potent neurotoxin. Although a single fluorescent light contains a very small amount of mercury, millions of these lights are sold every year in Washington State. Taken together, the mercury from fluorescent lights and HIDs has potential to harm human health and the environment if not properly recycled.
Unbroken lights are safe to handle and use. Disposing of mercury-containing lights in regular garbage can cause the mercury to be released if they break. Recycling these lights prevents the mercury from being released. Since mercury can vaporize at room temperature, it could be released from broken lights in your home, in landfills, or at any point in-between. Mercury can be particularly harmful to children, infants and fetuses by impairing neurological development.
How does it work?
Reducing mercury releases in two steps.
Step 1: Use energy-efficient lighting.
Fluorescent lights use far less electricity than incandescent lighting. According to the US Department of Energy, fluorescent lights use 25-80% less energy and can last 3-25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
This is an important step because roughly half of the electricity in the United States is produced by coal-burning power plants. Since mercury occurs naturally in coal, it is released when the coal is burned. In the United States, “Coal-burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions…” – USEPA. In short, using mercury-containing lights reduces mercury emissions by reducing energy consumption.
The Recycling Process of a Mercury-Containing Bulb
Step 2: Recycle your lights.
Recycling lights in Washington has never been easier or less expensive. Just drop your unwanted fluorescent, CFL and HID lights at LightRecycle Washington Collection Sites throughout the State for free!
Recycling lights and other materials preserves our finite natural resources, decreases the amount of waste entering landfills, reduces pollution, saves energy and stimulates economic development.
Mercury-containing lights that are collected in the LightRecycle Washington program are transported to an authorized processor for recycling. Processors are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others to ensure that they comply with environmental and worker safety regulations.
Wearing special respirators and other personal protective equipment, workers sort lights by type and stage them for manual and/or mechanical processing. All standard fluorescent tubes, and most other lights, are put through a machine where they are crushed and the components are separated.
Who are we?
In essence, we are a passionate group of environmentally-minded solutions providers who want to help good people, like you, change the world for the better. We do that by making sure that your spent, unwanted or broken lights end up in the recycling stream and not in the trash.
For those of you who prefer their explanations to be a bit more formal…
LightRecycle™ is a family of recycling programs that are operated by PCA Product Stewardship Inc. (PCA), a non-profit industry association, specializing in product stewardship on behalf of the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of products that are regulated under provincial Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws.
Wow, that’s a mouthful!
It breaks down like this:
A state (in our case, Washington State) issues regulations around the end-of-life handling of various products produced and sold by industry.
These regulations obligate manufacturers, distributors and retailers to put processes in place to ensure that their products do not end up in landfills and waterways when they have reached the end of life phase.
These regulations are collectively known as EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility).
EPR regulations mandate a thorough and complex roster of requirements, including establishing convenient, free-to-use collection networks for consumers and businesses, transportation networks, processing standards, program performance reporting and auditing, program advertising and promotion, and more.
In order to effectively satisfy these requirements, a manufacturer, distributor or retailer of a product regulated under EPR can come to a recognized stewardship organization, like PCA, which will take care of all of the obligations listed above.
PCA develops programs such as LightRecycle Washington, allowing its members (the manufacturers, distributors and retailers, collectively known as ‘participants’) to be in compliance with EPR regulations through membership.
Participants apply an Environmental Handling Charge (EHC) to the cost of their products. Participants remit EHCs to PCA in order to cover all the cost of operating a program like LightRecycle. In some cases, an EHC may appear on product receipts and invoices.
The EHC is not a government tax. It is considered part of the cost of the product and subject to sales taxes. It is at the discretion of the seller of the product to either display or incorporate the EHC.
What is Product Stewardship?
Product stewardship is an environmental management strategy guided by the principle that whoever designs, produces, sells, or uses a product takes responsibility for minimizing that product’s environmental impact. Product Stewardship programs encourage or require producers of products to plan for the end of the product lifecycle in a way that reduces waste and protects the environment. LightRecycle Washington does this by providing consumers with convenient and inexpensive recycling services for mercury-containing lights. Recycling prevents the lights from entering the landfill and captures the mercury and other raw-materials so that they can be refined and re-used in new products.
Why is Product Stewardship Important?
By diverting recyclable materials from the landﬁll, we can reduce the need to develop new landﬁll sites. The diverted materials can be reused and we can save the energy needed to produce new products from raw materials.
Many day-to-day products can be harmful when they reach end-of-life; they may be corrosive, toxic, or ﬂammable. Product stewards have committed to recycling their products safely and responsibly. By returning your products to the appropriate collection sites, you can guarantee a safe and responsible recycling process.
Who is responsible for what?
Product stewardship requires the collaboration of several stakeholders working together to ensure that products no longer being used by consumers are managed in an environmentally responsible manner.
Typically, the product’s manufacturer, distributor or brand owner takes on the challenge of developing a plan and implementing a program to collect and recycle their products once they reach end-of-life. Producers can also choose to appoint an agency to carry out their duties under the plan. In addition, producers must report on the program’s performance and consider the design of their products, making them easier to recycle.
The State regulators develop the legislation and regulations that the product producers must follow. More speciﬁcally, their role includes approving stewardship plans, monitoring the producer’s performance and enforcing compliance where necessary.
The local government may provide facilities or operational services for products to be collected or processed. They inform the public of the stewardship program and cooperate with producers by imposing bans on the landﬁlling of relevant products when appropriate.
Often participants of stewardship programs themselves, the retailers may collect recycling charges at the point of purchase on behalf of the producers. They may also provide consumers with information about the existence of the stewardship program, including recycling charges and the location of the nearest collection site.
So what’s your role in all of this as a consumer? It’s simply to make sure that your mercury-containing lights are brought to the designated collection sites once they reach end-of-life. Drop them off at a LightRecycle Washington collection site near you.
What are the principles of Product Stewardship?
Costs are covered by consumers and producers of products and not downloaded to local governments or taxpayers. Often an Environmental Handling Charge is charged at the time of purchase.
LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
All producers and retailers are treated equitably with no cross subsidization of product types.
Producers are required to set and achieve positive environmental results. The goal is continuous improvement.
TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY
Financial statements are independently audited and publicly available.
All consumers have reasonable access to collection sites.