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What happens when the lights go out?

TitleWhat happens when the lights go out?
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsLombard JE, Webb PS
Conference NameWaste Management Conference (WasteCon2008)
Conference Start Date06.10.2008
Conference LocationDurban, South Africa
KeywordsFluorescent tubes; Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs); recycling of fluorescent lamps; mercury-containing e-wastes; energy efficient; mercury recycling; electricity saving.

In its drive to save energy South Africa is moving on an unprecedented scale to replace incandescent lamps with more energy efficient fluorescent tubes and Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs).

Each fluorescent tube and CFL, however, contains between 4 to 15 mg of mercury which, when broken, poses a serious health threat to anyone coming into contact with the vapour. If nothing is done, the majority of these lamps will find their way as in the past onto landfill sites around the country, and the quantities will be orders of magnitude larger than what has historically been part of the general waste stream. They will have to be managed as a separate hazardous electronic waste stream to minimise the risk.

One of the solutions is to recover the mercury and recycle the components of this waste stream. International experience in the recovery of mercury is examined and an initiative to introduce clean technology for recycling of fluorescent lamps into South Africa is described. 

An initiative to fund the recycling of mercury-containing e-waste has been proposed - introducing an advanced recycling fee (ARF) as is done in the ICT industry. This will only work if there is full co-operation from the lamp importers since the initial upfront ARF has to be introduced through them.   

Most lay people are ignorant of the hazard associated with fluorescent lamps once they break. It is critical to increase awareness of the danger that mercury-containing products poses, and how important it is to manage them safely when they become waste.  Awareness raising will have to reach right into individual households so that people start to manage their fluorescent lamp waste differently. Ways of doing this effectively are proposed.

Lombard_2008_WasteCon.pdf228.01 KB
Lombard_2008_WasteCon_slides.pdf834.98 KB
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