Thursday, April 24, 2014

‘Bulb Eater’ safe way to dispose fluorescent lights

Fluorescent light bulbs contain chemicals like mercury that are harmful to environment. In fact, there’s supposedly enough mercury in one standard compact fluorescent bulb to poison about 1,000 gallons of water.
This begs the question, what do you do with them when they burn out?

Incandescent bulbs can be disposed of at the landfill while household compact fluorescent bulbs and four-foot-long fluorescent lamps can be turned in at places like Canadian Tire and Walmart.
But what about larger bulbs, like the eight-foot fluorescent lamps used in commercial buildings? What if you have to get rid of 1,000 of them?
Larry Eldridge of Eldridge Electric has an answer to that—the “Bulb Eater” fluorescent lamp crushing system.
Earlier this year, Eldridge purchased the system, which takes fluorescent lights and breaks them down into their constituent parts while safely removing the mercury from them.
“The reason I got this machine is because I do a lot of lamp retrofits from the T12 bulbs, which are on their way out and no longer going to be produced, to the T8s, which is the smaller one, and the T5s,” he explained.
But Eldridge didn’t want to put the old fluorescent lamps in the landfill. And while the town hosts a household hazardous waste day each year, a contractor can’t drop off 5,000-6,000 fluorescent bulbs they’ve accumulated over the course of a year.
“I’ve had jobs where I’ve taken out 2,000 bulbs and that’s a lot of mercury to be putting into the landfill,” he remarked, noting he didn’t realize the amount of damage mercury could do until he got the “Bulb Eater” and did more research on the subject.
Eldridge pointed out that most landfills are built on a hill, or end up elevated as waste piles up. As such, it’s almost inevitable that if mercury is thrown away there, it will leach into the water table and “we end up with a bunch of two-headed fish—or the fish just floating.”
Before the “Bulb Eater,” Eldridge had two choices: to throw bulbs away in the landfill or ship them off for proper disposal.
The latter option means you have to pack up the fluorescent bulbs in the boxes they came in and seal them up. Then, you have to pay to have them shipped to a disposal company, which, in turn, charges you so much money per foot to dispose of them.
“It’s a very expensive proposition,” said Eldridge.
Now, Eldridge feeds bulbs into the “Bulb Eater.” The mercury is sucked out by a series of several filters while the metal, plastic, and glass goes into a drum.
Eldridge then ships the drums to Sybertech Waste Reduction Ltd. in Toronto, which removes all the metal fragments, grinds up the glass even more, and washes it.
“Basically, every part of the [bulb] is reused,” he explained. “The crushed lamps are divided into three materials—glass, metal, and ceramics—and then the mercury barrier dust.
“The glass is used as a flux agent, which lowers the temperatures for smelting lead,” Eldridge noted. “It replaces mine source flux so they don’t have mine flux for smelting.
“The metal parts—they’re smelted down to recover the zinc, cadmium, arsenic, and the mercury.
“And the ceramic stuff that’s in them, they’re broken down and they use that in the manufacturing of Portland cement.
“The mercury is recovered, and they roast it and they recapture all mercury,” he continued.
“That’s sold back to lighting manufacturers to be used in new lamps.”
Eldridge said he’s been happy with the “Bulb Eater” in the past few months since he got it.
“It sure beats taking [fluorescent lamps] to the landfill or having them laying around,” he chuckled
And not only does the “Bulb Eater” help him be environmentally responsible and save money, but it frees up space in his garage.
The drums into which the “Bulb Eater” feeds broken down bulbs can hold 1,300-1,400 bulbs. If Eldridge had to store that many eight-foot lamps in boxes in his garage, they easily would run the length of one of the walls—piled six feet high.
In addition to using the “Bulb Eater” for his own purposes, Eldridge wants others to know he can help them out.
For example, he is recycling T12 lamps that contractor Energy Resources has been removing from several municipal buildings and replacing with T8s as part of the town’s energy retrofit program.
As well, Westburn Central Division out of Kenora has been sending bulbs to Eldridge and his “Bulb Eater.”
“It saves them on their shipping charges because they don’t have to ship them as far, especially for the local guys,” Eldridge noted, adding he also has contacted the hospital and two school boards about getting rid of their old fluorescent lamps for them.
And if anything, there will be more need for the “Bulb Eater” as time goes on. Eldridge predicted that in the next 20 years, fluorescent bulbs will be on their way out and replaced by LED lights.
Companies and individuals who need to dispose of their fluorescent lights can call Eldridge at 274-0312, and he’ll give them a price.
Light bulbs must be brought to him.

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