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Recycling Center to Take Fluorescents from Non-Residents

The El Cerrito City Council last week gave a green light to accepting fluorescent light bulbs and tubes, for a fee, from people who don't live in El Cerrito or one of the other West Contra Costa cities that already pay a solid waste fee.

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.

Winifred Owen October 16, 2012 at 05:04 PM
And these bulbs are considered GREEN? Why, pray tell? I thought the objective of "green" (which is a buzzword I'm increasingly coming to hate) was to make things healthier and cleaner for all. Guess not. I long ago stopped using these "curlies," as the warnings (in almost unreadable small print) gave me pause to think and research. After doing so, I decided they were not for me, and really should not be for anyone. The LEDs and updated incandescents are a far more reasonable solution, environmentally and cost-wise. In my experience, the curlies lasted on average a shorter time than the incandescents they replaced in my home. And I seemed to be about the only one in my circle of friends and colleagues who, when the subject was brought up, knew they required special disposal. That fact has NOT been well publicized, and most people just blithely throw them into the trash. They should stop making these nightmarishly hazardous things NOW. And we need so stop so gullibly and eagerly hopping on the latest "green" bandwagon, often driven by some $elf-notivated huck$ter, and learn to think and research for ourselves.
Winifred Owen October 16, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Um . . . make that "$elf-motivated" . . . in my comment above.
Claire Griffing October 16, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Thanks for posting this, Charles. Albany residents with cart service also have the option of recycling their CFLs curbside, but this is an easy way for them to recycle fluorescent tubes. They must call Waste Management at 510-613-8710 to order a free CFL bag. Please check our website for more information about how to recycle bulbs, batteries, and more! http://www.albanyca.org/index.aspx?page=259
Catherine (Kate) Rauch October 16, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Just a reminder that Albany residents can recycle their curly bulbs (and other florescents) with their weekly trash pick-up from Waste Management - for no extra fee. They pass out special bags. Call the city (528-5760) or Waste Management(613-8710) for more.
Catherine (Kate) Rauch October 16, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Ha, I think we were posting at exactly the same time Claire!
Ross Stapleton-Gray October 16, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Correct me if I'm wrong, but you can drop CF bulbs free at Ensler Lighting on Solano, I believe.
Robert Marshall October 16, 2012 at 07:52 PM
I believe Home Depot also takes them.
Winifred Owen October 17, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Ensler Lighting is where I always took mine - before I wised up and stopped using them altogether. And yes, it was a free drop-off.
Tatter Salad October 17, 2012 at 05:11 AM
[ Great! The Dog Area at Memorial park sees non-Albany use in excess of 50%, and the argument given (besides: "can't we all just get along") is that 'El Cerrito doesn't play that game with us.' Well, not any more.] The best treatment of 'waste' I've seen was begun in Hawaii 35 years ago. There, at the end of most undeveloped streets and remote areas sits large (empty) refuse bins. On the sides of the bins is a large advertisement for the sponsoring company. Thus anyone with excess garbage, or wishes to set out tires or a refrigerator, can bring their items to those donated dumpsters (half of the costs of the dumpsters are picked-up by the city). Guess what! The costs of providing unlimited dumpster access is CHEAPER than cleaning up tossed debris on the streets (as we do), and MUCH better for the environment. (But it's difficult to get a dumpster dropped off out at the Bulb). There should be NO extra 'costs' for disposing of tires, refrigerators, mattresses, or neon-bulbs, IMHO; and the logic behind that statement is simple, but the policy would have to be State wide.
Alan Eckert October 17, 2012 at 09:16 PM
If any cost goes into it all all, it should be an up front tax before the item is even purchased.
Brad Buscher October 26, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Safely recycling used fluorescent lamps and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) is important for the environment, but also for the health of consumers and handlers who come into contact with them. Exposure to mercury vapors can lead to significant risks including neurological damage. Despite the potential health issues, fluorescent lamps and CFLs are growing steadily in the industrial, commercial and residential markets. They are four to six times more efficient than incandescent bulbs, offer energy cost savings and deliver a longer working life. In order to safely dispose of and recycle used fluorescent lamps and CFLs, they must be properly packaged in an effective mercury-safe storage or shipping container that includes an adsorbent technology.
Winifred Owen October 26, 2012 at 07:47 PM
. . . which does NOT make them an environmentally attractive option in my book. To require hazmat-type remediation measures if one breaks a light bulb in their home is NOT something I care to encourage. Also, when I did use CFLs, they did not, for the most part, outlast the incandescents they replaced. In fact, my porch light required more frequent replacing. I believe LEDs are the best alternative. More expensive in the short term; less expensive in the long run - and more environmentally friendly/non-hazardous. I am currently using the updated incandescents and some LEDs. No CFLs for me - EVER!

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