Vt. Implements Law Requiring CFL Makers to Create Recycling Programs

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law a bill that requires manufacturers of mercury-containing lamps to establish and finance a recycling program for spent bulbs from residents and small businesses. Vermont becomes the third state in the country to establish such an extended producer responsibility (EPR) program.

The governor said the law will help protect the state’s waterways from the problems associated with mercury pollution.  Under the new law, recycling costs will be paid by the manufacturer, consistent with other product stewardship legislation enacted in Vermont and around the country.

Mercury-containing lamps, such as compact fluorescent bulbs, have significant benefits in terms of energy efficiency and cost-savings.  However, these bulbs also contain small amounts of mercury, a known neurotoxin, that make proper recycling of the lamps critical.

"Keeping mercury out of the waste stream has been a high priority for solid waste districts and alliances, but it has come at a significant cost. This law will ensure that we can continue our programs with a funding source provided by manufacturers rather than taxpayers," said Jen Holliday, environmental safety compliance manager of the Chittenden Solid Waste District and vice president of the Product Stewardship Institute.

As with earlier laws passed in Maine and Washington, the approach taken in Vermont provides a financially sustainable means of preventing the release of mercury into the environment by recycling lamps and keeping them out of landfills and incinerators. This industry-funded approach will be increasingly important as state and local agencies around the country face growing budget cuts, while CFLs grow in popularity as a result of federal lighting efficiency standards scheduled to take effect in 2012.

"With the federal phase-in of higher efficiency standards just around the bend, we're likely to see a significant increase in the use – and subsequent disposal – of CFLs and other bulbs containing mercury," said Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project and Green Lighting Campaign.  "Vermont's law ensures that lamp makers 'see the light,' 'pay to play,' and practice EPR."

There are more than 60 state producer responsibility laws around the country that require product manufacturers to provide for the collection and recycling of electronics, mercury thermostats, mercury auto switches, and other products that can affect the environment in unintended ways if not properly managed. Additionally, as with Vermont's new law, laws requiring mercury content standards have been adopted in California and Maine, modeled after new standards recently adopted by the European Union.