Mercury and CFL Recycling
Mercury is a natural element that can take different forms: elemental or metallic mercury, inorganic mercury compounds, and organic mercury compounds. What makes it valuable is that its properties allow it to conduct electricity, form alloys with other metals, and expand in response to changes in temperature and pressure.
Some common items that contain mercury:
- Button cell (watch) batteries
- Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs and tubes
- Switches and relays
Despite the beneficial uses of mercury, it is a potent neurotoxin and there are health and environmental factors to take into consideration. The improper disposal of CFLs and other mercury-containing items results in mercury leaking into the environment, which can contaminate water bodies to the point that fish may not be safe for consumption.
Mercury and Compact Fluorescent Lights
The federal government instituted a phase out of traditional incandescent bulbs, which has increased demand for energy efficient lighting options like CFLs and LEDs. A traditional incandescent bulb consists of a glass enclosure that contains a tungsten filament; electric current passes through the filament, which heats it to a temperature that produces light. CFLs produce light when electricity is passed through argon gas and a small amount of mercury sealed in a glass tube, which creates UV rays that react with a phosphor to produce light. Compared to an incandescent bulb, CFLs are estimated to use 70-90 per cent less energy than incandescent bulbs, and last for up to five years based on three hours of use each day.
CFLs are considered hazardous waste and should not be disposed of in the garbage or blue box. Ninety-eight per cent of each CFL bulb or tube can be recycled and recovered.
Bill C-238, a private member’s bill that sets a national strategy for sound management of mercury-containing lamps, has received Royal Assent in June 2017. It calls on Canada's Minister of Environment and Climate Change to work with provinces, territories, and all interested and appropriate governments, persons, and organizations to develop a robust national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound management of mercury-containing lamps. Read more.
Take spent lights to a municipal waste depot or hazardous waste drop-off event. Check with your local municipality for availability.
Retailers that may accept burned out CFLs include RONA and Ikea. Call ahead to your local store to ensure availability.
Businesses looking to properly dispose of CFLs and tubes are encouraged to visit www.takebackthelight.ca.
For other mercury-containing items, check with your local municipality for more information on proper handling and disposal.