Recycling old energy-saving light bulbs isn’t just the ‘green’ thing to do; it’s the safest option, too. But is this message getting across – or are energy-saving light bulbs still ending up in the bin?
The EU-led ban on old-style incandescent light bulbs in favour of energy-saving ones – and the loud debate around it – rumbles on. September 1 is the next date in the diary, when 60W traditional bulbs get the heave-ho.
But as more of us find ourselves using energy-savers, the switchover throws up another question entirely: how are you supposed to get rid of them?
Traditional bulbs weren’t easily recyclable, so the advice was to throw them in the bin when they got to their end-of-life.
Energy savers, on the other hand (and here I’m referring to compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs, the most commonly found type) not only can be recycled, but – crucially – need to be disposed of separately to the rest of your rubbish.
Safe light bulb disposal
CFLs contain mercury, albeit an amount small enough to fit on the tip of a ballpoint pen. But as a hazardous material, it can damage the environment if it ends up in landfill and needs to be disposed of carefully to reduce the risk of one smashing in your home.
So it’s worrying to hear that 80% of people questioned by light bulb recycling company Recolight were unaware that such bulbs needed to be recycled – with 69% stating they’d throw old CFLs away in the normal rubbish.
The results mirror a similar question that we asked to more than 1,000 people at the end of 2009. Then, 68% surveyed threw their last energy saving light bulb in the bin.
Where to recycle?
Light bulbs fall under the remit of the Waste Electronic Equipment, or Weee Directive. Shops are required to help customers recycle old bulbs for free, by offering an in-store takeback scheme or paying towards a recycling service.
But reaching a ‘local’ recycling centre can be easier said than done in some areas, if comments on previous light bulb-themed Conversations are anything to go by.
Rarrar told us he has a 35-mile round trip to his nearest recycling centre that accepts energy-saving light bulbs, with no public transport access. It’s a problem shared by Dave D, who said his light bulb-friendly recycling points are few and far between.
Shop and drop
To end on a more hopeful note, though, there are more convenient options cropping up.
Ikea has been offering light bulb recycling in its stores for a while (plus free coffee in return if you’re in Essex, apparently).
Recolight, which is funded by the lighting industry, now offers drop-off points at 240 larger Sainsbury’s stores, and 100 Robert Dyas shops. It’s also partnered with community group Cobra to roll out volunteer-managed recycling points in remote areas – the idea being to set up recycling points in post offices or village shops that the locals can take ownership of.
Have you come across any schemes like these, or do you still find it hard to dispose of your conked-out bulbs?