Answer Man

This is why it’s hard to recycle your old fluorescent bulbs

Q: You wrote a great article on CFL bulbs, but I have a question: If the long fluorescent tubes have even more mercury, why does no one recycle them? The only place I’ve found is Batteries and Bulbs, and they charge, I think, $2 each to do it! Do you know of any place that will take them?

Connie Myers

A: Because of their awkward size and fragility, fluorescent tube lights are likely a nightmare for stores to safely collect, store and ship to a recycler. That’s why, unlike old batteries or compact CFL bulbs, few stores volunteer to recycle them, even though hundreds of millions are discarded each year in the United States alone.

Those who generate large quantities of burned-out tubes — the Missouri Botanical Garden, for instance — are required to contract with a recycling service, according to the Garden’s Jean Ponzi. That’s not the case for individuals, which is why countless millions likely wind up (legally) in landfills.

As Ponzi points out, modern landfills are constructed and monitored to safely contain the garbage dumped there, but it would still be better to recycle. Unfortunately, as you’ve discovered, tube recycling usually comes at a cost. Both Batteries and Bulbs stores and Metro Lighting in St. Louis do pass on the cost of recycling. However, at Metro Lighting (www.metrolightingcenters.com), they’ll waive the fee if you buy an equal amount of replacement bulbs at retail price. Either way, you might feel better knowing that all components of the tube have been safely recycled — included some of the estimated four tons of mercury that might otherwise get into the environment.

This animation, produced by Randall Moore, shows how the lack of careful disposal of mercury dental fillings has resulted in the highly potent toxin's dispersal into the environment.

Today’s trivia

What is the only state that has an official state bird named for another state?

Answer to Friday’s trivia: Nicknamed “the Roundhouse,” the New Mexico state capitol in Santa Fe is the only round state capitol in the United States. When viewed from above, it was reportedly designed to resemble the Zia Indian sun symbol.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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