OTTAWA – New federal standards for energy efficiency will mean the end of old-style incandescent light bulbs beginning Jan. 1, 2014, and their replacement by mercury-containing compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs. Some facts and figures:
Genesis: In April 2007, Conservative government proposes new energy-efficiency regulations, to come into effect beginning Jan. 1, 2012. Regulations amended in October 2011 to delay implementation by two years, starting Jan. 1, 2014, to “allay” concerns of consumers.
Impact: Regulations do not ban incandescents outright, but will effectively require retailers to replace them with so-called compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs, which contain small amounts of toxic mercury. Another more expensive alternative is mercury-free LED lights.
Quantity: Environment Canada estimates the regulations will require about 1,500 kilograms of new mercury in CFLs between 2014 and 2026. Other consumer goods now containing mercury include some batteries, switches, relays and thermometers.
Current consumer mercury: Environment Canada estimates the use and disposal of products containing mercury represent about 27 per cent of Canada’s current domestic emissions of this toxic metal.
Foreign sources: Some 96 per cent of human-made mercury pollution deposited in Canada every year arrives through airborne foreign emissions, with China as a major source because of its coal-fired plants.
Dangers: Minute amounts of mercury can have serious health consequences. The substance can cross the placenta into the fetus, can be transmitted through breast milk, and is often concentrated in fish, birds and marine mammals, especially in the Arctic. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, and can cause tremors, insomnia, memory loss, neuromuscular changes, headaches and other problems.
Recycling/waste facilities: Some 123 facilities store or manage mercury waste in Canada. There is no facility in Canada to extract pure mercury from waste for recycling. Waste is often sent to U.S. facilities for mercury extraction — six tonnes in 2003, for example — though transborder shipping is becoming a political problem.
Managing CFL mercury waste: Federal government has proposed but not enacted limits on the amount of mercury permitted in each CFL; final regulations are expected later this year, to come into effect a year later. Ottawa also intends to compel manufacturers and importers to manage the mercury waste from the CFLs they sell, but has not yet proposed regulations; they’re expected to be released later this year and the proposals must undergo a mandatory period of consultation.
Consumers: Consumers who have CFLs that are broken or burnt out should not dispose of them with regular garbage. Rather, they need to be taken to a waste facility or retail program for proper disposal of the mercury content. One website with advice on finding a local waste facility is Earth911.com.
(Sources: Environment Canada, Health Canada, Summerhill Impact, Environmental Defence)