Energy saving light bulbs are threatening to damage the environment as tons of the toxic devices are being dumped in landfill every year.
By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 8:00AM BST 03 Apr 2010
Councils are failing to heed warnings that chemicals contained in the bulbs are dangerous and must be recycled to prevent them contaminating the ground, the Daily Telegraph has learned.
The EU has already started phasing out incandescent light bulbs and by 2012 all traditional lamps will be illegal.
Instead consumers have to buy more expensive energy-saving bulbs. The new compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs have been criticised for giving off a dim "greenish" light and even causing skin rashes and migraines.
The latest complaint against the 'eco bulbs' is that they are actually damaging the environment because thousands of the bulbs are being dumped in the bin rather than recycled.
A Daily Telegraph investigation found one in four councils are advising consumers to put CFLs in the bin, even though this could risk mercury in the bulbs leaking into landfill.
Campaigners said it was a risk to the environment and called for a collection network at supermarkets to make it easier for consumers to recycle.
CFLs last up to 15 times longer than ordinary bulbs, however there is an environmental price. Each bulb contains around 4mg of mercury, which helps convert the electrical current into light. Although this is barely enough to cover the head of a ballpoint pen, it could be damaging once is escapes into the environment because the heavy metal will build up each time it passes up the food chain. If the lights crack they can also be dangerous to householders or bin men. The boxes already contain warnings to clear a room if a bulb is broken.
But a Daily Telegraph survey of 274 councils found 70 call centres said it was fine to dump light bulbs in the bin. A separate investigation by The Ecologist magazine found three quarters of London Boroughs give incorrect advice.
Although there are no figures for the amount of bulbs going into landfill, there were 15 million CFLs sold in 2003 which will now be coming to the end of their lives. This year 150 million bulbs were sold, so it will be an even bigger problem in the future.
Sam Jarvis, of environmental charity Waste Watch, said many councils are giving out the wrong advice.
"That is not good because bulbs contain mercury – a hazardous waste," he added.
Under EU rules manufacturers face a £5,000 fine if they fail to ensure light bulbs are being recycled. Most fulfill their duty by paying local authorities to collect the bulbs at the local tip and passing on the cost to the customer.
But Mr Jarvis said driving a couple of light bulbs to the local tip will take more energy than it saves.
"What we need is a comprehensive, nationwide system of drop-off points for CFLs similar to the regime now in place for batteries," he said.
Gary Porter, Chairman of the Local Government Association Environment Board, said manufacturers not councils should be paying for light bulbs to be recycled.
“By law, it is the people who make and sell energy saving light bulbs who should be paying for their disposal, not hard pressed council taxpayers," he said.
Nigel Harvey, Chief Executive of Recolight, that represents manufacturers, said recycling points are being set up at supermarkets, including Sainsbury's and Ikea, as well as at tips in most council areas.
But he admitted more needed to be done.
"If you get the infrastructure out now, when people's light bulbs do go pop they will know what to do with them. [But] that process takes a long time," he said.