The way I see it, if a company makes a product with toxins in it, then that company should take responsibility for making sure that, once the products are used, the toxins don’t end up in the environment. About as likely as a dog cleaning up after itself, right? Maybe. But I’ll tell you this: if a company adopted that attitude, it would quickly find itself with a bunch of loyal, environmentally-conscious customers—like, say, me.
For example, by now, we’ve pretty much all heard that if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an Energy Star approved compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), the United States would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.
The problem is that we’ve also heard that carbon fluorescent bulbs contain, according to Umbra at Grist, “roughly four milligrams [of mercury], or an amount the size of the period at the end of this sentence.” Mercury is a neurotoxin. That doesn’t mean that using CFLs is dangerous, but it does mean that thousands upon thousands of them in our garbage stream would not be good (read about the problem here, for example).
We’re told that CFL bulbs should be taken to a hazardous waste disposal facility. Great! Do you happen to know where your local hazardous waste facility even is? The Environmental Protection Agency’s webpage gives a hint (and I literally mean hint). And here in Manhattan, there is exactly one hazardous waste drop off center, and it’s pretty far out of the way for most people. I don’t think we’re going to see eight million New Yorkers stampeding over there to drop off their bulbs.
What about this, though? What if GE or Sylvania or the other companies sold their CFL bulbs in little, post-office-approved, mailing tubes (made from a strong, recycled cardboard, say)? What if they included in the tube, along with the bulb, an adhesive prepaid mailing label? What if that prepaid mailing label stuck on the tube, with the burned-out CFL bulb safely placed inside, directed the bulb to a central CFL bulb disposal center? That would turn every mailbox in the country into a good, safe place to dispose of our CFLs.
Personally, I’d be impressed. I mean, I’d prefer a bulb without the mercury (coming in the future, I’m told), but in the meantime, I’d definitely pay a little more to buy from the company that at least made a stab at cleaning up after itself.
Image courtesy of hyerluv.com.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.