Experts probe CFL bulb disposal

Staff Writer
A team of experts from the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) will today assess whether Gaborone's waste handling facilities are capable of disposing of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs), which contain a toxic, mercury.

 The assessment will be held at the multi-million Pula Gamodubu regional landfill, which serves Greater Gaborone and parts of Kweneng District.

SAPP officials are in town for the regional organisation's 34th General Meeting. The organisation's Environmental Sub-Committee is scheduled to lead a tour of the Gamodubu facilities this afternoon (Tuesday), to assess the capacity of the waste handling facilities to process CFL waste.

"During the 27th SAPP Executive Committee in Lusaka, the Environmental Sub-Committee was requested to make an assessment of the infrastructure capacity within the member countries to support disposal of CFLs, which contains mercury, a toxic substance.  "Following this request, the SAPP Coordination Centre designed a tool to be used by different utilities to assess the capacity of waste handling facilities to handle CFL waste.

The Environmental Sub-Committee is expected to kick-start this assignment during the SAPP meetings in Botswana, where an assessment of the Gaborone waste handling facility will be assessed," SAPP officials said. Officials at the Botswana Power Corporation (BPC), which is hosting this week's General Meeting, confirmed that SAPP experts would tour the Gamodubu landfill.

Yesterday environmental watchdog, Somarelang Tikologo expressed doubt that Gaborone's waste handling facilities were capable of disposing of CFLs. Somarelang Tikologo Environmental Officer, Chenesani Feledi said to the organisation's knowledge, there were no specialised facilities for the disposal of CFLs.

"They are classified as electronic waste and included with waste such as old computers and printers. There's no facility for these and they are disposed of at the landfill.

"When the CFLs were introduced, it appears there was no plan for their disposal and as a result, they are being disposed of at the landfill," she said. Feledi said the weakness in CFL disposal lay with the Act governing the operations of the Department of Waste Management and Pollution Control (DWMPC).

The Department's operations are guided by the

Waste Management Act. "We understand the Department had a meeting recently on the issue of clinical waste, because the Act is not clear on this area. It is also not clear on CFL disposal," she said.

According to the Act, mercury could be classified as hazardous waste. In this case, according to Section 49 of the Act, the Minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism is charged with setting standards for the waste's collection, disposal, packaging, marking and conveyance. DWMPC officials were yesterday unavailable for comment, with the Director, Jimmy Opelo, said to be attending a meeting somewhere.

The BPC's programme to replace conventional light bulbs with the CFL variety, is expected to save the nation 30 megawatts of power, at a time when the supply/demand balance is highly precarious. CFLs last about three years and use five times less electricity when compared to the incandescent light bulbs currently in use. Last year, the Corporation moved to allay public fears that the bulbs presented a toxic hazard, arguing that the amount of mercury in CFLs was negligible. It has been pointed out that fluorescent lamps have been in use for decades in Botswana, without public health or environmental hazards.

Due to the health effects of mercury exposure, industrial and commercial uses are regulated in many countries. The World Health Organisation and other international bodies treat mercury as an occupational hazard, and have established specific occupational exposure limits. In the US, environmental releases and disposal of mercury are regulated primarily by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA recommends recycling of used CFL bulbs, but, in the absence of local guidelines, recommends double-bagging of old or broken bulbs before disposal. This latter recommendation has been severely criticised, with other US experts suggesting that used bulbs be disposed of in a sealed glass jar.



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