By John DeFore
Big American retailers like Wal-Mart and Home Depot have been embracing compact fluorescent light bulbs for a while now, but some customers who read the fine print have been peeved that, since they contain mercury, the twisty little energy-saving bulbs are easier to buy than to dispose of properly. This week, Home Depot made a stab at changing that.
The chain announced that all 1,973 of its locations will now accept unbroken CFLs for recycling, free of charge, no matter where customers bought them.
Until now, consumers with dead CFLs on their hands needed to buy special return mailers, wait for locally organized collection days, or be lucky enough to live near a smaller chain (like Ikea) with a drop-off box. Home Depot’s program may make buying those mailers obsolete: The company asserts that 75 percent of U.S. households are within 10 miles of one of their stores.
Does this relieve the Environmental Protection Agency of pressure to help deal with the increasingly popular bulbs? EPA press officer Enesta Jones says the agency’s “goal is to provide Americans with as many recycling opportunities as possible, and all of these entities are helping us achieve this goal.”
Of course, given how long they’re supposed to last, it seems a little early for many of those 75 million CFLs Home Depot sold last year to need returning. Asked about EnergyStar’s attempt to monitor any issue with premature failures, Jones said, “the feedback we’ve received doesn’t indicate any broad issues with lamp life.” Still, an even longer-lived, non-toxic light source might eventually be preferable — will the government someday be encouraging us all to trade our CFLs in for LED replacement bulbs?
“EPA does anticipate a shift towards LED bulbs,” Jones admits, “but over the long term rather than the short term,” noting that high cost and current lack of availability in higher-wattage equivalents make the option currently unfeasible. However, “another approach to lighting involves new light fixtures, rather than just the bulbs. EPA has a technology neutral specification and is working with its existing partner base of light fixture manufacturers on qualifying Energy Star light fixtures using LEDs.”
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