Politics & Government

Bill would let lights shine a bit 'greener'

OLYMPIA - The ability of residents to recycle their used fluorescent bulbs and tubes might get easier.

The 2010 state Legislature passed a bill requiring companies that manufacture mercury- containing lights to set up a recycling program with disposal costs paid by the producers.

The goal is to make it more convenient for the public to properly dispose of the lights, reducing the risk of mercury exposure to humans and the environment.

Currently, only about 2 percent of used fluorescent lights from homes in this state are recycled safely, according to Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation.

“A lot of people are still putting them in the trash,” said Terri Thomas, an education and outreach specialist for Thurston County Solid Waste.

The producer-financed recycling program would begin Jan. 1, 2013, and could involve a combination of recycling options, including retail outlets, household hazardous waste collection centers, recycling centers, curbside recycling and a mail-back program.

“We tried to provide as many options as possible,” said Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, the bill’s prime sponsor in the House.

Services would have to be provided in every county in the state, according to the legislation.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, consume about 25 percent of the energy that incandescent lights and last up to 10 times longer.

Sales of CFLs increased 230 percent in this state from 2006 to 2008. That trend is expected to continue as federal energy efficiency laws phases incandescent lights out of the marketplace in 2012.

But fluorescent lights contain minuscule amounts of mercury, a neurotoxin that’s harmful to the brain, liver and kidneys and causes development disorders in children. It persists in the environment and accumulates in the food chain.

“The recycling program itself will boost consumer confidence in using these energy-saving lights, which are an important part of the climate solution,” said NW Energy Coalition policy associate Carrie Dolwick.

Statewide, the existing recycling options for fluorescent lights are hit and miss. Nine counties lack any program and only 10 of the 39 counties have more than five collection locations for bulbs and tubes, solid waste officials said.

“Local governments lack the funds to offer convenient, long-term recycling programs for these lights,” said Margaret Shield, a policy liaison for King County’s hazardous waste management program.

The legislation is patterned another producer-financed recycling program for electronic waste, including televisions, computers and computer monitors. E-Cycle Washington has surpassed expectations by collecting more than 38.5 million pounds of electronic waste in the first year of operation statewide.

The fluorescent light recycling bill was passed by the House 71-27 and the Senate 36-12. It awaits signature by the governor to become law.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444