CFLs – an everyday household object that is almost impossible to dispose of properly

The entire country converted to Compact Fluorescent Light-globes years ago, which is great, as they use much less energy and have a longer life.

Well, if you use them properly. For instance I don’t use CFLs in the bathroom/toilet, as these lights are generally on for short periods of time, and CFLs are better when used for 15 minutes or longer.

And the greenhouse gas reduction might be overstated – this Wikipedia article reckons it has resulted in a total nationwide GHG reduction of just 0.14%.

Stash of dead CFLsThe real problem is there seems to be no well-organised way to dispose of them safely. You’re not meant to just chuck them into landfill because they have a small amount of mercury inside them.

Proper disposal locations are few and far between, and a lot of the information available on safe disposal relates to fluorescent tubes, not CFLs. Or it’s clearly at commercial disposals, not households.

Some companies that sell CFLs are also involved in their disposal. I seem to recall both Ikea and Aldi advertising that they’d take them in the past, but I don’t recall actually seeing a collection bin in their stores.

More recently, apparently Ikea has said they’ll only sell LEDs by 2016 — this would be even better than CFLs, as they last even longer, and don’t have any hazardous chemicals.

So, how to get rid of them?

I asked my local council what their position was on CFL disposals. Their reply included a number of web links, the best one being Sustainability Victoria’s A to Z of household chemical waste disposal.

This lists a number of permanent and mobile collection points, the closest one to me being the Monash Waste Transfer and Recycling Station in Notting Hill. They will take CFLs for free, provided they are separated from any other stuff you’re dropping off (charges apply for most other types of waste).

This is fine for me, I can stockpile dead CFLs and take them there once every year or two, but really it’s pretty poor for something now used in most households.

How many people just chuck them into regular garbage because they don’t know?

And how many people would find it impractical to get to a drop off point, for instance because they don’t have a car?

A follow-up from the council said they’re investigating more collection points – not kerbside, but bins at places such as libraries and other council facilities. That could work quite well, but of course, part of the problem here is that there’s no nationwide, or even statewide approach.

Witness hard rubbish – with some councils doing scheduled pickups and some doing booked pickups, the different methods across parts of Melbourne means that confusion reigns. In Glen Eira, if you book a collection and put your stuff out, half the time your neighbours will put stuff out as well, thinking an area-wide collection is coming.

The other thing the council said is that apparently a scheme involving manufacturers/importers is being considered, but that sounds like it would require Federal legislation, so it could be years away.

Until an easy, consistent method is provided for disposing of CFLs, you can bet most people won’t be getting rid of them properly.

Or maybe it’s time we all moved to LEDs.