How not to recycle a lightbulb

Last updated 12:19 18/10/2012

It's hard being misunderstood

Lightbulbs are one of those everyday objects we all completely take for granted until such a time as one of them has the gall to stop working.

"Oh, the light in the bathroom just went...how DARE it!"

A while back I changed the bulb in the living room lamp and was reading the box that the new bulb came in when I was introduced to a new concept - recycling lightbulbs. In ye olden times our blown lightbulbs would be wrapped carefully in newspaper and put into the rubbish bag for roadside collection. As far as I was aware this was what you did with energy-saving bulbs too. I had no idea that they could even be recycled. I've been just chucking mine out for years. Whoops. 

I experienced a sudden rush of "eco-guilt" and determined that I would do just as the lightbulb packaging suggested and seek further information on my recycling options by visiting the Philips website.

Later than day I sought further information on my recycling options by visiting the Philips website. The Philips website said "Contact your local recycling authorities for information about the correct electronic waste disposal procedures in your area".

Why you gotta be all like that, Philips website? I hate when websites just tell you to go and look at another website. It's so douchey.

What the Philips website did tell me, however, is that energy-saving bulbs have mercury vapour in them and even though it's unlikely that vapour from a broken bulb will cause you harm you should -

  • ventilate the room for 20-30 minutes
  • pick up the broken pieces using gloves and put them in a closed bag in the rubbish
  • not use a vacuum cleaner to clean up any bulb debris

Whoops again.

What with all the earthquakes and housemoving of the last couple of years I am almost certain we've had a couple of bulb breakages and I haven't followed any of the steps as prescribed above. At all. I haven't actually picked up the broken bits of bulb and licked them but I certainly didn't take any kind of precautions. Because I didn't know anything about the, dun-dun-dun...Mercury Vapour.

If you want to feel really quite unsettled, do look up Mercury poisoning on Wikipedia. This entry has taught me a lovely new word, "desquamation". It means "shedding of skin". So feel free to trot that one out the next time one of your mates has a particularly bad sunburn.

The chances aren't very good that you'll actually get Mercury poisoning from a broken lightbulb but it's such a nasty thing to have that any exposure to Mercury vapour is to be avoided at all costs. It's like when you change the channel immediately after Campbell Live ends on a Wednesday night just in case you catch the tiniest sight of the beginning of The Ridges.

And here I was blithely inhaling away and picking up bits of broken lightbulb with my bare hands like some kind of unintentional daredevil. For my next trick, folks, I'll run with scissors and eat undercooked chicken. I flirt with danger! I give hazard the glad-eye!

But back to the recycling part of this adventure. I dutifully checked the information that Christchurch City Council has, thinking they'd tell me to put my lightbulb out for kerbside recycling.

No, actually they don't take them but they provide a list of hardware and lighting stores that do. And one of them was the hardware place just down the road. Hurrah! No problem. It's only a few minutes' walk away. That will take me a maximum of 10 minutes to sort out.

And then the lightbulb sat on top of the fridge (aka the place where grime goes to die and household items are rendered invisible) for oh, about three months.

A few weeks back I finally seized the moment and trotted down to my local Carters with lightbulb in hand. I was going to get rid of this bloody mecury-vapour-containing albatross around my neck. 

No, I wasn't. That branch doesn't take them anymore and hasn't done so since the earthquakes (apparently it costs $150 to have the collection box on site and someone decided it was unnecessary expenditure).

I used the feedback form on the CCC website to tell them they needed to correct their information (which they've since done) and decided that the next time we went to Bunnings on the other side of town, we would take the lightbulb with us.

We didn't take the lightbulb with us because it was back on the top of the fridge and therefore invisible. Instead I ended up making a special trip on my bike just so I could be relieved of the burden of the damn thing. I can proudly say that as of last weekend, I am free... at least until the next time one goes.

And I'm telling you about this because as someone who has a reasonably good general knowledge and who recycles when she can, I feel I should have known all this and I can't help thinking I might not be the only one who is completely ignorant of the complexities of disposing of energy-saving bulbs.

So is all or some of this news to you? Have you, like me, been merrily chucking energy-saving bulbs in the bin? Do you know what's on top of your fridge or is it "invisible" to you too?

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