Used CFL mercury piled up in Sri Lanka with tight regulations: report

ECONOMYNEXT – A bulb maker which set up a re-cycling unit to safely dispose compact fluorescent lights (CFL) has been left with several tonnes of toxoc mercury amid tight regulations preventing their export to a foreign processing plant, a report said.

Fluorescent tubes and CFL bulbs contain mercury vapour and powder. The bulbs work by electricity exiting mercury vapour inside the bulb, which emits ultraviolet light. The UV rays become visible light when they hits a phosphorescent coating the glass making the bulb glow.

Most Sri Lankan households throw away used or broken CFL and fluorescent bulbs not knowing or caring that mercury is highly toxic. A thermometer may use up to 100 times more mercury than a bulb.

Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Times newspaper said Asia Recycling (Pvt) Ltd, a unit of Orange Electric, has been collecting old CFL bulbs and disposing of them safely, especially from industrial users such as apparel factories.

CFL bulbs were promoted by the government and Ceylon Electricity Board, with subsidies in some cases, until freemarket innovators came up with more efficient light emitting diode (LED) bulbs.

Asia Recycling had originally planned to have a Swedish partner, take the mercury captured from old bulbs, but the foreign partner had pulled out, The Sunday Times said.

The firm was now left about give tonnes of waster which is was keeping inside an air conditioned container complying with Central Environmental Authority (CEA) regulations.

Government to government approval is required to send the mercury abroad, under the Basel Convention on Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.

“There are only three countries in the world that recycle mercury waste and Japan is the closest to us,” Upali Indraratne, the CEA’s Deputy Director General of Waste Management was quoted as saying.

“As the BASEL focal point, we wrote to Japan about six months ago for approval to send the mercury powder. But there is still no consent. Japan is also governed by the Minamata Convention on Mercury; so it is a long process and Japan can’t take it at once.”

Exporting may also cost about 9 US dollar a kilo, the report said.

At the moment Asia Recycling is taking in only used bulbs made by their parent, the report said. Other CFL sellers had never had a safe method for disposing old bulbs.

Most households simply throw away used CFL bulbs. (How to clean up after a CFL bulb breaks)

CFL use is now going down, but industrial users are struggling to dispose of old ones which are now coming to the end of their life, the report said.

CEA plans to have talks with the Basel convention secretariat and users advised to store old bulbs until a solution is found.
“We are also looking at the possibility of encapsulating the mercury waste and burying it in a safe inland location and of high-end solutions like diluting it,” Indraratne was quoted as saying. (Colombo/Dec08/2019)