New website lets Whatcom County consumers know where to recycle fluorescents

A new website is letting Whatcom County residents know where they can turn in spent fluorescent bulbs and other lights that contain toxic mercury, which can’t be put into the trash under state law.

The website is part of a new program called LightRecycle Washington. There are about seven such sites in Whatcom County as of this week and somewhere between 200 and 250 statewide, with more being added.

A 25-cent fee for each bulb sold at stores is funding LightRecycle Washington. That fee started Jan. 1.

Businesses and individuals may drop off as many as 10 spent bulbs a day at no charge under the program.

It’s not the first time that agencies and businesses have accepted compact fluorescent light bulbs, known as CFLs, or other fluorescents locally and in the state.

“Although there had been some sites where you could drop off CFLs, not all of them were free,” said Peter Thermos, program manager for LightRecycle Washington.

What’s new is the program, the statewide website, and the number of places that accept both CFLs and fluorescent tubes. The sites also accept another type of mercury-containing bulb called high intensity discharge lights, which are usually used outdoors.

It’s the kind of convenience that consumers will appreciate, he said.

“The real focus of the website is to help people find these drop-off points, these collection sites,” Thermos said.

All of the lights use a much lower amount of energy than incandescent bulbs, but they each contain small amounts of mercury that could contaminate soil and water when released from broken bulbs in landfills.

By itself, the impact of one broken bulb is minuscule. But millions are sold each year in Washington state, and throwing them into the trash threatens the environment and human health, officials said.

Lights accepted for recycling are:

• Fluorescent tubes up to 8-feet-long, including those that are straight and shaped.

• All types and sizes of CFLs.

• All high intensity discharge lights, which are called HIDs.

Find recycling locations online at lightrecyclewa.org.

LightRecycle Washington is run by the nonprofit PCA Product Stewardship Inc., which works with retailers, lighting makers, municipal waste facilities and the Washington state Department of Ecology.