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Environmental Groups Urged Government to Address Light Bulb Disposal Dangers

Environmentalists welcomed the move to use the more energy efficient, fluorescent globe. It was projected to save up to 800,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

But green groups say the Australian Federal Government has failed to warn households about the dangers of the replacement: the fluorescent light globe. The globes contain mercury and the ideal disposal is through chemical clean-ups, but the majority are being dumped in landfills.

Total Environment Centre spokesman Jeff Angel says if fluorescent globes are not disposed of correctly they can be toxic to humans and the environment.

"There are environmental effects: the mercury can enter the food chain via bacteria and that could be, for example, accumulated in shellfish," he said.

"And of course we had the notorious Minamata Bay problem in Japan in 1953 where people were severely poisoned and got a nerve disorder called Minamata disease from eating the shellfish and the fish from that part of the food chain.

"So it's potentially extremely serious and it's not a pollutant that we should be willingly putting into the environment.

Under current regulations, fluorescent light globes are allowed to be discarded in normal household garbage. But the correct way to dispose of them is recycling.

Research is currently being conducted into the safety of the light globes. Ros Hall is from the New South Wales Department of Environment and Climate Change. "The environment ministers around Australia have in fact just asked their waste working group to have a look at the whole issue of fluorescent lamps and in fact to report back to them about whether there are issues about how much there might be, if there are issues to do with heavy metals," she said. "So there is a lot of research still to be done to pull that together."

In New South Wales, local councils and the Department of Environment have started running education programs about the correct disposal of fluorescent light globes. But the Total Environment Centre says the majority of councils have not got the message.

Mr Angel says an education program should have been set up when the Federal Government announced the phasing out of incandescent globes. "We're going to need a very quick resolution before the new regulation comes in," he said. "By that I mean that we have the recycling facilities operating and we have a collection infrastructure in place.

"It's no good asking people to voluntarily recycle the globes when they remember to do it: we have to put the education system in place.

"We have to have the particular collection facilities, where there is a special little bag that people have that are put out every month or so. And we have to have people employed to collect it to take it to the recycling facilities."

Mr Malcolm Turnbull says a national program is being put into place to ensure the public is aware of the correct disposal of fluorescent light globes. He also says he can guarantee that within three years, the majority of globes will be getting recycled.

"I've no doubt by 2010, in fact we'd want to do it a lot sooner than that, there will be a national recycling approach for CFLs [compact fluorescent lamps]," he said.

"It's perfectly feasible to have them recycled now. And that's why I say people should contact their local council; they may say fine, that it's all put in place. But we will have a national scheme by then.

"Of course it won't just cover fluorescent lights, it covers other mercury-containing waste as well."

The incandescent light globe will be phased out by 2010.

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