Fluorescent light bulbs and tubes can be friendly to the environment by requiring less electricity than other light fixtures, but they can be far more hazardous if they break and release toxic mercury.
In an effort to increase safe recycling of fluorescent bulbs and tubes, the El Cerrito City Council approved a staff proposal to begin accepting fluorescents from anyone who brings them to the El Cerrito Recycling Center. People who live outside El Cerrito and other West Contra Costa County cites, however, will have to pay a fee.
In general, the city-run Recycling Center has had no residency requirement for materials that it accepts. But when the rebuilt recycling center opened this past April and began including compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) and fluorescent tubes among the materials it accepts, it did not permit such lights to dropped off by those who don't live in El Cerrito or other West Contra Costa cities.
The bin for fluorescents is kept locked and IDs are checked for those who want to drop them off, meaning that users from Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and most other places have not been able leave fluorescents at the Recycling Center.
The reason is that the El Cerrito Recycling Center serves as a satellite drop-off of fluorescents for the Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) facility in Richmond, which is funded by solid waste disposal fees already paid by residents of El Cerrito and other cities that are part of the West Contra Costa Integrated Waste Management Authority, also known as RecycleMore. The other cities are Richmond, San Pablo, Pinole, and Hercules.
So El Cerrito's cost of accepting fluorescents from RecycleMore residents is covered by its share of the fees already paid to RecycleMore, according to a staff report prepared for the council meeting.
To cover the extra cost of accepting fluorescents from other users, city staff proposed fees of $3 per bulb and 50 cents per foot for tubes. An additional fee of $10 will be charged for a large quantify drop-off of more than 15 bulbs and/or 30 feet of tubes.
The council approved the fees for residents who are not residents of RecycleMore cities. Kensington residents are not part of RecycleMore and so would have to pay.
Garth Schultz, manager of the Recycling Center, told the council that the change in policy is intended to reduce the hazardous, illegal disposal of fluourescent bulbs and tubes.
"They're easily broken," he said. "There are not a lot of places to recycle them."
"It's really important to recycle them because they contain small amounts of mercury, and when broken, that mercury escapes as vapor, which both causes a human health hazard if you're immediately in the vicinity of a broken CFL or tube and also can get into the atmopshere and ultimately as it comes down out of the atmosphere, enter the water supply, which is a major water quality concern."
Schultz also issued a reminder that anyone in the vicinity of broken fluorescent bulb or tube should immediately evacuate the room or area where it breaks and let it air out for 15 minutes before attempting to clean it up.
In the same action, the council also approved fees for city-provided waste containers that previously have been provided at no cost to schools, churches and other organizations at community events. The containers – which consist of a metal-frame and plastic bag – are used to collect garbage and recycling items and have cost the city money, not just the cost of the bags but also because of damage and loss of the frames, according to the city staff report.
The fees approved by the council would be $3 rental per non-city event for a set of three stands and a $60 replacement fee for stands not returned. The rental fee is to cover the cost of the bags and delivery of the materials to the site, Schultz told the council.
The fees for fluorescents and waste containers would go into effect Sept. 1, Schultz said. Initially, fluorescents from non-RecycleMore area residents could be dropped off during business hours, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with weekend collection likely to begin after a couple of months, Schultz said. Payment could be done by cash or check, but not by credit card, he said.
A copy of the staff report is attached to this article.