Green Groups Push for Product Take-Back to Reduce Mercury Hazards

Quezon City. With the planned phase out of incandescent bulbs by 2010 and the shift towards greater use of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), environmental groups today called on the government and industry to take responsibility of finding ways to minimize and ultimately eliminate the use of mercury, a neurotoxin, in the energy- saving bulbs, and to ensure CFLs are safely managed at the end of their useful lives.

While recognizing the energy and climate saving benefits of CFLs, the Ban Toxics!, EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace Southeast Asia expressed concern that with improper handling and disposal, the mercury in CFLs, which if consumed, inhaled or incinerated, can adversely impact the brain, particularly of young children and unborn fetuses. Each CFL bulb contains from 2 to 6 milligrams of mercury.

A factsheet on mercury in CFLs published by the US Environmental Protection Authority warns that exposure to mercury can affect the brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver, causing symptoms such as trembling hands, memory loss, and difficulty moving. Mercury is also capable of causing birth defects, and a persistent toxin capable of bio-accumulating through the food chain

“This early, we are asking the government to pay attention to the mercury in CFLs. The public need to be told not only of the energy and climate benefits of CFLs, but also about the risk involved when it is accidentally broken, improperly discarded or incinerated,” Manny Calonzo, President, EcoWaste Coalition, said.

The groups observed that the six-page paid advertisements put out by the Department of Energy to launch the “SWITCH Movement” did not contain any single precaution against the mercury content of CFLs.

“The consumers need to know what should be done in case of CFL breakage, and how spent bulbs should be properly disposed of to minimize the risk of mercury contamination. There must be an explicit ban against putting spent bulbs in bins or dumps and as early as now government and industry must find ways to stem the disposal of waste CFLs,” Calonzo said.

CFLs, according to the EcoWaste Coalition, poses two key problems that consumers need to be conscious about: first, the risk of being exposed to mercury if CFL bulbs at home or work are broken; and second, the risk of the environment being contaminated with mercury from the disposal of spent CFL bulbs in dumpsites. The anti-dumping group notes that in some places, like in California, USA, the disposal of CFLs in waste bins has been outlawed since 2006.

Considering the risk of mercury pollution when CFLs are damaged during shipment and storage, the government has to enforce clear requirements as to how CFLs should be packed and transported and the measures that should be undertaken in case of road or sea accidents, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

An immediate step which the government can do is to encourage manufacturers and importers of CFLs to sell CFLs that are compliant with the European Union´s directive on the “Restriction on the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances” (RoHS).

According to Atty. Richard Gutierrez, Ban Toxics! Coordinator, the EU enacted the RoHS directive which requires companies to eliminate toxins such as mercury from electrical and electronic products such as CFLs.

However, because of the technological lag, it is not yet possible to totally eliminate mercury from CFLs. To overcome this, the European Union imposed lower levels of mercury in CFLs sold in the European Union.

“If we can require minimal mercury containing CFLs in the Philippines, as we begin to push for these bulbs to combat climate change, this would be a huge step later on when we face the disposal of CFLs,” Atty. Gutierrez said.

“More importantly, the industry has to find a safe substitute for mercury use in CFLs, especially because these bulbs are fast becoming the industry standard for energy efficiency. The problem of mercury can be eliminated as demonstrated by the upcoming high efficiency halogens and light emitting diode (LED) technologies also already in the market,” said Von Hernandez, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

In the meantime, the groups urged the government to require CFL manufacturers and retailers to institute a take-back program to ensure that spent mercury-containing bulbs are properly managed.

“As CFL bulbs gain more market traction, it is important that manufacturers, importers, and distributors also start sharing the responsibility for the end-of-life management and disposal of hazardous materials present in the bulbs via product take back schemes. This would encourage manufacturers to design mercury out of their product to reduce costly disposal options,” added Hernandez.

EcoWaste Coalition
Unit 320, Eagle Court Condominium, Matalino St.
Quezon City, Philippines
+63 2 9290376