Let’s not follow the tube light trend! As long as CFLs are disposed of correctly, they are harmless

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This post first appeared on http://www.dailymirror.lk on 01/09/2015

We tend to regard the natural environment and all its resources as a subset of mankind; available for us to take and use whenever and wherever we please. Subordinating the environment in this way, we use natural resources excessively to power our economies and to strive to attain the highest goals of modern development, seemingly failing to note the scarcity of these resources and the damaging impacts that we have on ecosystems in our exploitative use of them.

Our shortsightedness causes us to regard the destruction of our environment as the destruction of an entity outside of and separate from ourselves, failing to realize our interdependence. Either we don’t understand this interdependence, or else we don’t care enough to change our habits to accommodate it.

Either way, by the latest scientific data on climate change, we are moving toward a mass extinction and killing off a number of precious species and their habitats in the process. Although we may not be feeling the impacts of climate change severely, immediately, the point to understand is that they are not far off, so if life is environmentally unfriendly yet comfortable currently, understand that this comfort is a temporary bliss.

Big steps are being made on a policy level to enforce environmentally friendly methods, such as renewable forms of energy production.As important as these top-down, governmental changes are, the small changes that we can make in our daily lives have a powerful impact as well. So what is one of the small yet powerful changes we can make here in our home in Sri Lanka?

One as small and simple as the type of light bulb we use. LEDs maybe the latest technology but many of us already use CFLs in our homes and businesses. I want to inform you about one of the dangers involved in using this environmentally-friendly product, and share how you can be a more responsible consumer.

Most of us are accustomed to using incandescent light bulbs. They are one of the most commonly used forms of light bulb due to their low manufacturing and purchasing cost, easy use and relatively simple disposability. Despite these positives, they are the most energy-inefficient form of lighting as less than 5% of the energy is converted to visible light. and the rest is wasted as an unusable form of heat energy.

Not only do they consume a lot of energy but the electricity generation needed to power them produces CO2, one of the main greenhouse gases which contributes to global warming. They also have relatively short life spans, therefore it seems only rational that we start employing alternative, more efficient forms of light bulb.

Switching from incandescent to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) is one of the small but effective means by which we can help reduce our impact on the greenhouse effect. CFLs use 1/5th of the energy of incandescent lamps and save up to 80% of energy. One CFL can be equated to the output of ten incandescent lamps and CFLs last 6-12 times longer. As great as the benefits that CFLs provide are, they contain a small amount of mercury, a toxic substance which therefore needs to be disposed of correctly. Mercury can cause environmental and health defects.

Some hazards include inflammation of the lungs, kidney damage, gastroenteritis, restlessness, shaking, and affect the central nervous system.

The mercury components of CFL bulbs can also contaminate air, soil and groundwater. However, as long as CFLs are disposed of correctly, they are harmless.Thankfully, we have the facility to dispose of CFLs safely here in Sri Lanka.

There are currently 3 companies in Sri Lanka that produce CFLs: Orange, Siemens and Philips, so we are in no short supply of these environmentally friendly bulbs. However, Orange is the only company which has a recycling facility for the CFL bulbs. The plant, which is located in Homagama and which commenced operations in 2011, has the capacity to recycle the country’s annual CFL bulb usage (100,000 bulbs per day) however this rate is nowhere met, primarily due to “lack of public awareness and lethargy on the part of the authorities in helping to provide publicity”.

Orange CFLs are recycled for free, however other CFLs are recycled for a fee of Rs.15 if they are to be picked up and Rs.10 if they are dropped off at the facility. The toxic mercury is extracted and transported to Germany where it is “disposed of securely”. Having spent Rs.600 million on implementing such a plant, it’s wasteful that it is not being made use of to its full capacity, when the resources exist to reduce contributions to the greenhouse effect.

A lack of public awareness is a primary cause for the under use of the recycling plant. Most people are unaware that such a plant exists, let alone the importance of buying and recycling CFL bulbs.

Raising awareness about the importance of switching to environmentally-friendly modes of living and informing the public about the actions that they can take would be vital in promoting the use and recycling of CFLs. This would come under the larger umbrella of raising awareness about climate change and its causes and consequences.

Having an easily accessible drop-off point for these bulbs, such as Keells and/or Cargills outlets would greatly increase the number of people willing to recycle their CFLs, and then organizing the transportation of the bulbs from these outlets to the recycling facility would have to be taken care of.

If the job of recycling them was made that much easier, there would be a greater number of people who would recycle the CFLs. As not polluting the environment for the sake of one’s posterity may not be incentive enough for some, perhaps a reward system could be made use of. For example let’s say for every 10 bulbs recycled, one gets a discount on the next 2 CFL bulbs.

Also encouraging people to recycle, would hopefully serve as a means to raise awareness about the bulbs. Orange had a promotion for CFL bulbs, “CFL Ganu Denu (Give One, Take One): Win Hundred and One”in which the top flap of the bulb box could be sent in for a raffle draw.

Coupled with this, they would receive a coupon when handing over old CFL bulbs to the agent, which also qualifies them for the raffle.  Incentives such as this would be a good idea to get the public more involved and aware of the steps they can take as consumers. The main responsibility is not just on the consumers, it is also the responsibility of the manufacturers and dealers. As individual consumers, we have the power to influence other consumers’ habits, companies’ production as well as governmental policies which can prohibit or promote certain products and practices.

The manufacturers can implement more accessible ways of recycling our waste and promoting the use of CFLs. It seems absurd that with all the information we currently have on the disastrous consequences of environmental damage, we continue with our environmentally-unfriendly practices. CFLs are just one component on the large frame of actions we can take to make a change, so now you are aware, I hope you will act accordingly.
A message from the younger generation

 

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