For whatever reason, the light bulb will not go off in the collective conscience of most American businesses when it comes to complying with the Universal Waste Rule.
Even though the rule has been a part of a federal regulation of the Environment Protection Agency since 1990, Raymond Graczyk said that only about 30 percent of private businesses properly handle the removal of universal waste such as mercury-containing light bulbs, batteries and ballasts – even though the numerous toxic effects of mercury poisoning has been well documented for years and years. Those effects include damage to the brain, kidney and lungs.
“What happens with mercury is that it accumulates in the environment, so when you’re getting hundreds and hundreds and millions of lamps being thrown out a year that mercury is released to the environment and then it finds its way back into the food chain, especially in fish,” said Graczyk, who is the co-founder and president of NLR, a company based north of Hartford, Conn., that specializes in lamp and universal recycling services for mainly commercial businesses. “[Awareness] is increasing some but it’s not as rapidly as it should be. It’s hard to say and necessarily come up with a reason why… Whether people aren’t properly informed. Whether they don’t care. I don’t know. Maybe they don’t realize how really available and easy it is to recycle.”
raczyk was working in the electric wholesale business before helping start NLR as a response to the EPA’s new regulations and the relative lack of a facility needed to process mercury-containing light bulbs in the Northeast. “There wasn’t any viable solution at that point in time,” he said.
NLR began with lamps — according to the company’s website it has recycled more than 300 million linear feet of lamp waste — and then quickly expanded to electronics and battery recycling and similar services. The company has more than a thousand customers in New York City alone, Graczyk said. He added that the company has clients all over the Northeast, stretching from Maine to Maryland.
“What we do at our company is keep a lot of mercury out of the environment,” said Graczyk, who also serves as the president of the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers, which has an “Education and Resources” page on its website.
Here’s how it works: A large blue and yellow machine (see above) crushes the lamps and removes calcium phosphate powder that contains the mercury from the glass. The metal and glass is then separated. The phosphate powder then is sent off for a process called retorting where the mercury is reclaimed through the powder. In the case of lamp recycling and all other similar processes, the raw materials, such as aluminum from a lamp or nickel from a battery, is smelted to later be made into a variety of products.
At the moment, the main involvement NLR at the residential level is only through partnerships that have been arranged with municipal transfer stations throughout the area. That could change, though, as more Americans begin using compact florescent lights in their homes with the federal ban of traditional 100-watt bulbs. Furthermore, manufacturers will stop producing 75-watt bulbs on Jan. 1, 2012, but will be allowed to make 60- and 40-watt bulbs until 2014.
“I’m sure as the use of compact fluorescents becomes more prevalent than we definitely will be more involved on the residential side,” Gracyzk said. “When you throw out florescent bulbs, they don’t even make it to the landfill. They’ll start releasing into the environment from the dumpster because they get broken right away.”
Does your company use services such as the ones provided by NLR? What are your thoughts on the spread of mercury into the environment in regards to light bulbs? We’d love to hear from you on the topic.
via Full Circle, Part 4: NLR – The Green Apple.