Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: California needs to find smart way to recycle dim bulbs

President George W. Bush signed legislation in 2007 forcing a phase-out of 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs starting this month in states not named California.

California forced the issue a year ahead of the rest of the nation. Now, California ought to lead again by coming up with ways to recycle one alternative – compact fluorescent bulbs.

California authorities started encouraging the use of compact fluorescents during the energy crisis in 2000. Fluorescent bulbs last longer than old-style bulbs and use much less energy.

But they’ve never lived up to their promise. They take too long to get bright. Worse, they contain hazardous mercury. When they burn out – and they do, sooner than producers claim – people have no easy way of tossing them, short of dumping them along with the rest of their household garbage.

A few hardware stores take back burnt bulbs. But many don’t. That leaves people not wanting to spread mercury in the environment with having to drive to landfills, which of course adds to our collective carbon footprint.

There have been legislative attempts over the years to limit hazardous material used in their manufacture and to streamline recycling of fluorescent bulbs and other electronic waste. Not surprisingly, major producers have hired lobbyists to defeat such efforts.

As incandescent light goes the way of the horse and buggy, compact fluorescent bulbs will remain an alternative. LED bulbs are another, one preferred by many experts. Light-emitting-diode bulbs are pricier than fluorescents, but theoretically they will last as many as 25 years and evidently don’t contain hazardous material.

No matter what bulbs consumers buy, California still will have a mixed-up approach to electronic waste recycling.

Legislation by Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton, would expand the authority of the Department of Toxic Substances Control to intervene to require more recycling of hazardous household electronics.

The bill stalled in the Senate last year. Although Assembly Bill 1022 doesn’t directly apply to mercury-containing fluorescent bulbs, Eggman’s bill warrants a second look as lawmakers return this month.