Groups Push Government to Enforce Collection System for Mercury-Containing Lamp Waste

2 May 2011, Quezon City. Green groups today pressed the government to draw up a strategy for the collection of spent fluorescent lamps following a “toxic investigation” indicating informal recyclers’ exposure to health-damaging mercury vapor from broken lamps.

In a statement issued in observance of Labor Day, the EcoWaste Coalition and related groups urged the Department of Energy (DoE) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to formalize a system that will prevent the disposal of mercury-containing lamp waste, particularly from households, into regular waste bins.

“By taking action now, the DoE and DENR, with support from local authorities, businesses and consumers, can reduce the occupational risks being faced daily by our waste workers from the handling and recycling mercury-containing discards,” said Roy Alvarez, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

“A mandatory ‘take back’ program involving producers, including manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers of both ‘branded’ and ‘unbranded’ CFLs will be essential in this regard,” he said.

The groups had earlier detected harmful levels of mercury vapor from the informal recycling of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) at Pier 18 Garbage Transfer Station in Manila using a mercury vapor analyzer called “Jerome,” with the highest reading recorded at 502.45 mcg/m3.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has warned that a “worker’s exposure to mercury vapour shall at no time exceed (the) ceiling level” of 0.1 milligram per cubic meter (or 100 mcg/m3), the agency’s “permissible exposure limit” for mercury vapor.

Citing information from the United Nations Environment Programme’s publication on “Mercury in Products and Wastes,” the groups warned that “when products containing mercury are discarded into the general waste stream, the mercury pollutes the environment – in waterways, wetlands, and the air – and endangers people both locally and globally.”

To put a stop to improper lamp waste disposal, the groups had presented to both the DoE and the DENR a proposal for the collection of lamp waste generated by households and small business and institutions.

Such a system, according to the groups, should:

1.Reiterate and enforce the prohibition against the disposal of used lamps in dumpsites, landfills and incinerators under the country’s major environmental laws and regulations (RA 6969, RA 8749, RA 9003).

2. Notify household consumers about the proper management of used lamps through popular means of communication, stressing that mercury-containing lamp waste should be sorted at source and appropriately treated as hazardous waste to reduce mercury releases from waste.

3. Assign Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), also known as Ecology Centers, in every barangay or cluster of barangays as primary drop-off points for used lamps, ensuring that items received are safely stored (e.g., in “baulbilya” or “baul ng bumbilya”).

4. Designate as many convenient drop-off points or depositories for used lamps with appropriate receptacles provided such as in barangay halls, churches, public markets, supermarkets, malls and hardware stores.

5. Provide incentives for residents to bring their used lamps to designated barangay drop-off points such as by introducing food exchange scheme (e.g., egg for CFL) or rebate scheme for returned lamps. Alternatively, local authorities can:

a. specify barangay collection days for used lamps (e.g., every first and third Friday of the month or any time convenient for the community). For non-collection days, residents can bring their used lamos to designated drop-off points.

b. contract waste pickers to do house-to-house collection during designated barangay collection days for used lamps.

6. Require LGUs or authorized handlers and recyclers of mercury-containing lamp waste to collect the items from the drop-off points (e.g., every first and third Saturday of the month or any time convenient for the community) and to keep records of lamp waste collected.

7. Require lamp importers to disclose lamp importation data, as well as require lamp waste treatment, storage and disposal (TSD) facilities to make information accessible to the public.

Among the groups who provided inputs to the said proposal were the Ang Nars, Ayala Foundation, Ban Toxics, Citizens Organization Concerned with Advocating Philippine Environmental Sustainability, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Green Convergence, Health Care Without Harm, Institute for the Development of Educational and Ecological Alternatives Miriam PEACE, Sanib Lakas ng mga Aktibong Lingkod ng Inang Kalikasan and the EcoWaste Coalition Secretariat.