Pridemore’s fluorescent light bill heads to governor

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A bill that would allow consumers to conveniently recycle energy-efficient compact fluorescent lights is headed for the governor’s desk after passing both the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support.

The measure, prime-sponsored by Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, and Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, is modeled on a similar law covering computers and TVs, also prime-sponsored by Pridemore, that passed the Legislature in 2006.

In 2009, its first year of operation, that law resulted in the collection of more than 38 million pounds of TVs, computers and monitors — about 2,200 units a day. The program diverted more than 2.6 million pounds of lead from landfills and incinerators.

Under both programs, the cost of recycling the product becomes part of the manufacturer’s cost of doing business.

Compact fluorescent bulbs use only a quarter of the energy of incandescent lamps, last up to 10 times longer and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But each light contains mercury, a potent neurotoxin that has the potential to affect humans when broken bulbs and tubes enter the waste stream. Currently, only an estimated 2 percent of mercury-containing lights from Washington homes are recycled.

Under ESSB 5543, a new program overseen by the Department of Ecology would begin recycling compact fluorescents on January 1, 2013. The department would hire a contractor to run the program, and each producer of mercury-containing lights would make an annual payment to fund program costs. Alternately, producers could choose to provide their own independent recycling programs. Service would have to be provided in every county of the state.

The program will become only the second of its kind in the nation.

“This bill gives us a way to safely recycle mercury-containing lights, rather than throwing them in the trash,” said Carrie Dolwick of the Northwest Energy Coalition. “And the recycling program itself will boost consumers’ confidence in using these energy-saving lights, which are an important part of the climate solution.”