Fluorescent lamps and tubelights - a hazardous waste
Over the last two decades, India has made remarkable progress in terms of energy conservation and in increasing energy efficiency, by moving towards more energy-efficient lighting solutions. We moved from incandescent lamps to CFLs and now are moving to LEDs. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Environment Ministry (EM) have been great influencers here.
It’s not just energy efficiency; India has also improved on reducing usage of hazardous mercury in the lamps, thanks to the revised guidelines of ‘Hazardous Waste Rules’ and ‘E-waste Rules’ for mercury management. Under the ‘Minamata Convention’ signed in 2014, CFL lamps and FL tubes were to be phased out by 2020.
However even today, despite the smaller amounts (less than 5mg) of mercury in use, it is still hazardous, as it poses huge risks, as follows:
· Anyone coming in physical contact with or inhaling mercury vapours, might be at great health risk directly
· According to lamp recyclers, “One fluorescent tube contains enough mercury to pollute 30,000 litres of water.”
· Soil pollution is not even being considered here.
Fluorescent light tubes and lamps are really not disposed of properly in India. There is no taker for them. Personnel dealing in municipal solid waste do not have the wherewithal to pick up fragile tubelights and lamps; as a result most citizens surreptitiously dump them wherever they can.
Though official guidelines and rules mandate their safe handling and recycling, practically that is not followed mostly. Even in ‘aware’ cities like Pune, it is difficult to find a single person who has any idea of how to dispose them safely. A paper published by authorities from CPCB and EM, provide a clearcut background about the situation in India. Some excerpts are given below:
“Numerous fluorescent lamps (FL) waste recycling technologies exist and world-wide FL waste recyclers (e.g., BALCAN, Air Cycle Corp, MRT) are entering the Indian market. For example, installation of bulb eater (Air Cycle Corporation) in a FL manufacturing unit at Mohali, Punjab; installation of drum top crushers by Crompton Greaves at Vadodara, Gujarat; Halonix at Noida, Uttar Pradesh; a recycling unit at Chennai; Reliance Facility at Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh.”
“FL waste recyclers exist, however they are few in number. It has been reported by an Indian FL waste recycler that to sustain economic viability there is a need for ensured availability of ‘adequate quantum’ of FL waste.”
“Unlike used/waste oil recycling (hazardous wastes (Sch IV), payback for end-of-life FL recycling is meager, as it does not carry ‘value along the management chain’ beginning from collection, transportation, treatment and disposal. Installation of recycling facility, recycling technology and process is capital intensive with very little payback in terms of resource recovery, proportion of recyclables and recyclability. Like all other wastes that have potential recyclable components the informal sector plays a significant role.”
“Though as part of a regulatory initiative, FL sector has shifted to mercury pill dosing and suspended T12 FL manufacture, ESM of this peculiar, ‘highly fragile’ FL waste with variable life spans is a major challenge as compared to other recyclable wastes like municipal, plastics, biomedical, E-wastes and other hazardous wastes.”
Facing the challenge
At Sustainable Lifestyle Store and Experience Centre, there is an initiative for ‘Resource Collection’, not waste collection, because we consider that ‘what is waste for one is a resource for another’, if handled properly. We learnt this principle from nature and decided to implement it. We collect these resources and handle it in different ways.
In the course of collecting waste for recycling, we realized that handling FL lamps and tubes is a serious issue, for which there is no taker. While in terms of technology and in theory nothing is impossible, the ground reality today is that there is no means to recycle them. While there may be big automatic recycling set-ups, we are still looking to locate them, collect these resources and hand it over to them.
March towards a solution
A noble thought, this, yet the immediate problem faced was - how to store and transport these fragile items? And in a safe way!
Niranjan Upasani, a techie turned environment innovator, designed a simple and feasible solution to crush these tubes, using a paint bucket, and some PVC plumbing pipes (as in the photo). While the idea was discussed with students from different institutions, there were no takers. Niranjan went right ahead and implemented it.
It’s a simple operation
· You insert the fluorescent tube from the top.
· Close the upper pipe, with its lid.
· Open the side pipe lead and burst the tube with a tube buster (an improvised stick), and close the side pipe lead immediately.
· It of course releases some vapours and powder. Allow 5 minutes to let that settle down.
· When the hazardous elements settle down, the tube can be crushed from the top vertical pipe using a piped long hammer. This reduces the volume to a minuscule. A total of 150 tubes can be collected in a single bucket; these can be easily transported for further appropriate recycling.
This unit is easy to manufacture, is low-cost, and occupies little space. Such a unit can be set up in every big society or locality. It would minimize the transport of such lamps and reduce possibility of hazards. At present, NIranjan Upasani will pick up the collected crushed tubelights from societies within Pune city when the receptacle is full. He is a phone call away.
There is scope for further improvisation, making it even safer, with guidance from official pollution control boards. For those who wish to take this further with Niranjan Upasani and his team, or want to contribute to this initiative, contact : 7720067799.
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