Wake up and smell the landfill

It should come as no surprise to regular Siren readers that I’m a CFL convert. I am an unapologetic environmentalist and like spreading the word on simple tips and ways to live a more eco-friendly life (check out the Eco Stuff section) while still feeling comfortable and not appearing to be a raging hippie (sorry to my hippie friends, but I’m sooo not a hippie).

My whole philosophy is to have the smallest carbon footprintpossible and to live mindfully. But hey, nobody’s perfect!

I admit I feel guilty throwing out the old incandescent bulbs before they’re spent. So when one burns out, I just switch it out with the far more energy efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs (aka CFLs). At this point, I’d estimate that about 50-60% of my home lighting is CFLs and will eventually be nearly 100% (can’t find CFL or LED-based lights for my dining room chandelier).

Let me back up a minute … In case you’ve been living in a cave or are new to The Siren, let me recap why CFLs (and the new LED-based energy efficient lightbulbs) are better than your average incandescent. According to the EPA, CFL’s use 75 percent less energy and last 10 percent longer than regular bulbs (which cancels out the 30 percent higher sticker shock). And let’s face it: Energy = Money. So even if you’re not into “going green” for the good of it, think about the bottom line. When you save energy, you save money. Period. Over the lifetime of the average CFL, you can save $30 in energy costs compared to a traditional incandescent bulb.

So here’s the thing. As CFLs become more popular, we face another problem. As they’re manufactured now, CFLs contain a small amount of mercury. Not a huge amount (less than old-fashioned mercury thermometers, according to Energy Star), but mercury none-the-less. (This is why I won’t put CFLs in my outdoor porch lights. If they break — which has happened to my regular bulbs in high winds — it will release mercury and even though it’s a low amount, I still don’t want to do it.) 

As we all know, stuff that’s thrown away in the landfill — including hazardous waste like spent batteries, electronics and now CFLs — eventually leach any chemicals down into groundwater and can contaminate soils as well. (By the way, check out this new program to recycle electronics through the post office.)

I know, I’ve written about this before. The short story for Las Vegas is that our valley’s only recycling company (the garbage company Republic Services) does not have a program to handle CFLs. They do have quarterly amnesty days when they have drop-off days for hazardous waste at one or all of their sites. (By the way, the next one is this Saturday, March 29 so get all your paint, used oil, CFLs and other hazardous waste together and take it over to the Sloan or Laughlin sites!)

Okay, but what if you can’t make it to the quarterly amnesty drop-off days? Or, what if like me you’ve had some of your older CFLs burn out and you don’t want to wait for an amnesty day and drive across town to dump them? What’s a modern, eco-friendly feminist to do?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much. Yet. The best I found was that you can pay to mail them to companies who will recycle them for you. Or you can store them and wait for recycling services to come along. Or, as a last resort, the EPA suggests putting used bulbs in two plastic sandwich bags and throwing them away. But that’s not really much of an option, if you ask me.

But, like any good activist, I think we can do something about that. Not as individuals, but collectively.

I think it’s time to put pressure on recycling companies (who in Clark County get exclusive contracts paid for by taxpayer dollars, might I add) to start handling the recycling of CFLs! I suggest we all contact Republic Services and demand better service! 

And we can put pressure on retailers who sell CFLs (like Walmart, Home Depot and Lowes, among others) to start taking back used CFLs, as many already recycle paint and other materials that originated at their stores. Yes, Walmart held a take-back event last year in a few states. It’s a start. But not nearly enough. So far, the only retailer I’ve found that takes CFLs back is Ikea. That’s great if you live near an Ikea. Not so great if you live in Las Vegas or most of the rest of the country.

So here’s what I’m going to do, and I hope you do as well. I’m going to send a letter to Republic Services and some of the stores I frequent urging them to do something about CFLs. In the meantime, I’m going to drive to Sloan on Saturday and drop off my used CFLs and other hazardous waste (don’t forget the batteries!).

And just because I’m feeling charitable and I love you all just that much, I’m going to post my letter here so you can use it yourself if you want.

To [insert name of company here]:

I am writing to ask you to start offering take-back or recycling services for used compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs).

As you may know, many people are switching their incandescent lightbulbs to CFLs in order to be more environmentally friendly since CFLs use 75% less energy than incandescents. However, CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, which if thrown into landfills could leech into groundwater through landfills over time. In order to continue the eco-friendly trend to it’s conclusion, the best thing would be to recycle CFLs so that mercury does not contaminate soil or water.

[This paragraph for Republic Services only]Since you are Clark County’s sole provider of residential garbage and recycling services, I urge you to create an on-going program for recycling CFLs. The quarterly amnesty days you have for hazardous waste drop off is a great start, but research shows that people generally only recycle when it is made easy for them. Having home pick-up of CFLs or easy, continuous, convenient drop-off locations (such as at stores, the post office or other locations) would be the most ideal option to encourage recycling of CFLs (and other recyclables).

[This paragraph for stores only]Since your store sells CFLs, you could do the community a great service by offering drop-off recycling of CFLs. Right now Ikea is the only retailer to offer such services, so there is a lot of room in the market for larger retailers to lead the pack and offer these services. In addition, the public support of such services has been high considering the success of last year’s one-day-only collection day by Walmart.

Please consider offering these services to benefit the community as well as the environment.

Thank you for your time,

[Your name here]

How much easier can I make it for you? Oh, how about the contact info:

— E

4 thoughts on “Wake up and smell the landfill

  1. LED’s will be the light to replace CFL’s in the future. Right now they are only a good replacement for your lower wattage bulbs in low lighting situations. With energy usage of 1 to 4 watts and a 50,000 hour life everybody could still make good use of several right now. For some good basic info on LED light bulbs http://www.DonsGreenStore.com is a excellant site.

  2. hello…how did I not find you before…you are a splendid inspiration…Chris in the UK xxx

    Einstein: “I know of two things that are infinite: the universe and human stupidity – and I am not sure about the universe”

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