Offer rewards for light-bulb recycling

First published: 17th February 2013

The Environmental Protection Department's fluorescent lamp recycling programme provides public collection points for old fluorescent bulbs, although the container does not cater to longer tubes that some households, like my own, use.

Also, the Waste Disposal Ordinance requires any premises storing a significant quantity (for example, more than 500 pieces) of used, mercury-containing bulbs to register with the department "as a chemical waste producer, and arrange for proper collection and treatment of the used lamps at the Chemical Waste Treatment Centre".

However, there is a big difference between normal domestic usage and 500 pieces.

I asked the management company of the industrial building where I work if they had registered. They said they handled about 20 old tubes a year, so it was too much trouble to register. Perhaps this company is less diligent than the majority in Hong Kong.

One recent morning, I passed a litter bin in Aberdeen and noticed seven fluorescent tubes sticking out. I recalled seeing the same thing in other locations. Maybe the management company of my building is not an exception, but is typical.

Could the department report on the number of fluorescents sold in Hong Kong and the number returned to its recycling facilities, and determine the number that are being disposed of in landfills?

I would propose that a deposit of, say, HK$1 should be charged on each fluorescent sold, and refunded when an unbroken bulb or tube is returned to the department's disposal facilities. This is insignificant compared to the electricity savings over the lifetime of the device, so it would not discourage the replacement of incandescent lights.

Maybe it would still be too much bother for management companies to handle, but it would be a just reward for the public-minded citizens who would collect and deliver discarded fluorescents. I am strongly in favour of fluorescents as they are far more efficient than incandescent light bulbs. They are similarly efficient to the latest trend - LED technology - but are much cheaper.

Each fluorescent tube contains less than 0.1 grams of mercury, so the occasional breakage is not a disaster - but we must consider the number that are slipping through the cracks in the department's recycling schemes and into our landfills.

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