March 11, 2010

State in front on bulb recycling



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Doug Jones/Staff Photographer, Thursday, February 21, 2008: Scott McFarland, Facilities Manager at the CPRC Group, Portland's agent for recycling disposal holds a box of Compact fluorescent lightbulb's or CFL's, turned into the recycling station on Riverside St. Disposal of CFL's will be an issue at sometime in the forseeable future because the state is encouraging their purchase and they are hazardous waste.

Doug Jones

Staff Writer

Maine is about to become the first state in the nation to require the makers of fluorescent lighting to recycle burned-out bulbs and keep mercury out of the environment.

The Maine House and Senate both voted overwhelmingly for the bill and are expected to give it final approval as soon as today. Gov. John Baldacci, whose administration supported the proposal, is expected to sign it into law soon after.

Under the bill, Maine would require manufacturers to submit plans for a recycling program by 2010 and begin collecting the fluorescent bulbs by 2011. Burned-out bulbs can now be returned to hardware stores and other retailers through a program financed by electricity surcharges.

The Maine bill overcame opposition from manufacturers, who argued it could raise prices and discourage use of the energy-efficient lamps.

A similar bill is pending in Massachusetts, and the idea has been debated, but not yet adopted in Vermont, California and other states.

''Maine is really the first state to comprehensively address the issue,'' said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, a Vermont-based group promoting bulb recycling around the country.

''I think this is going to send a message out nationally and perhaps globally. (Manufacturers) need to be involved with the total life-cycle management of the product, and they need to factor that into the cost of doing business.''

Compact fluorescent bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, which can be released into the environment when the bulbs are crushed in landfills or burned in waste incinerators. The neurotoxin can poison waterways, fish and people.

Mercury pollution is the reason Maine's children and pregnant women are advised to limit their consumption of freshwater fish.

The state has banned the sale of other mercury-containing products, such as old-fashioned fever thermometers, in an effort to keep the pollutant out of the waste stream and the environment.

Compact fluorescent bulbs, on the other hand, have been heavily promoted by state and federal agencies because of their benefits. The energy-efficient bulbs reduce electricity demand, with just one saving a household around $10 worth of electricity a year, advocates say.

Now the problem is capturing and recycling the mercury when the millions of bulbs purchased by Mainers burn out. Although it is illegal to put them in the trash, Maine officials estimate that only about 5 percent of the bulbs are getting recycled.

Maine's bill requires manufacturers to set up and pay for a recycling program, although consumers and retailers will continue to have a role in dropping off and collecting the bulbs.

''The Maine Legislature has once again demonstrated national leadership to prevent toxic pollution,'' Matt Prindiville, a lobbyist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said in a news release Thursday. ''This bill gives consumers a quick, easy and free way to recycle energy-efficient light bulbs, and it will reduce mercury pollution.''

The Senate endorsed the bill in a 35-0 preliminary vote Wednesday, and the House endorsed the bill in an initial vote last week.

Both houses had yet to cast a final vote as of Thursday night.

The bill covers only compact household fluorescent bulbs and tubes. The Maine Department of Environmental Protection intends to study options for recycling bulbs used in commercial buildings.

Maine's DEP also will submit a report to lawmakers by the end of the year estimating what the new recycling program will cost manufacturers. Lawmakers could then revisit the law.

Potential cost was a contentious issue during the Natural Resources Committee debates about the bill.

Advocates of the proposal say a large-scale recycling program could cost as little as 15 cents per bulb, but manufacturers argue that the recycling program could add $1 or more to the cost of a $2 to $3 bulb.

Manufacturers will continue to oppose similar bills in other states, a representative said Thursday.

''The approach that Maine chose in this bill is the least efficient, highest cost approach to a management system that you could choose,'' said Mark Kohorst of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, an industry group.

The state's current recycling program, using money from electricity surcharges, spreads the costs out and limits the impact on consumers, he said, and costs are important because the bulbs are an important way to reduce energy use and lessen pollution.

''The last thing you want to do is discourage people from buying products that would help the situation,'' he said.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

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