Tri-City Herald: It’s the law, don’t trash those fluorescent lights

Consumers will pay a little more when they buy fluorescent lights, but the cost is worth it since the money will help pay for a much needed recycling program.

This month, fluorescent tubes and other lights containing mercury will include a 25-cent handling charge if purchased in Washington. That’s to help cover the expense of transporting used lights from drop-off sites across the state to a recycling center in Seattle, as well as the cost of educating the public about the expanded program.

While fluorescent lights are energy efficient and last a long time, they contain small amounts of mercury, which is toxic. Throwing them out and sending them to the landfill often ends up with them breaking somewhere along the way, emitting poisonous vapors into the air. State officials estimate 10 million fluorescent lights are disposed of annually in the trash, releasing 400 to 500 pounds of mercury into the environment.

That’s a health hazard that needs to be stopped.

Disposing of fluorescent lights by tossing them in the trash has been illegal in Washington since 2010, but people still do it, in large part because they didn’t know what else to do.

So finally the state is trying to change that by increasing the number of drop-off sites for fluorescent lights, which includes several locations in the Tri-City area.

The Washington State Department of Ecology’s program allows individuals and businesses to drop off up to 10 lights a day for free at sites across the state. LightRecycle Washington is a nonprofit that will then take the spent tubes to EcoLights Northwest in Seattle for recycling.

So while the cost of the mercury-containing lights is going up, the recycling of them will be offered for free. It’s a reasonable plan that helps the environment and public health.

LightRecycle Washington is establishing drop-off sites in every county in the state. It has 130 sites already open and has been working to add another 27. More than 60 sites in Western Washington that only take fluorescent lights also are being added.

Sites where fluorescent lights can be dropped off in the Tri-City area include Grigg’s in Pasco, Batteries Plus Bulbs in Kennewick, Patnode’s True Value in Benton City, Kennewick Ace Hardware and, in Richland, the Ace Hardware store on Keene Road and the Ace Hardware store on George Washington Way.

Driving to a convenient drop-off site doesn’t take too much time and it makes a huge difference if everybody does their part.

Doing the right thing just got easier.