If one considers financing, collection and diversion as the holy trinity when designing a successful stewardship program, lack of attention to end-of-life management may render a program not only useless, but more damaging to the environment and the public.
Mercury-containing products should be handled with great care. Processors receiving material must take the time to isolate the product, remove the mercury and send it to the appropriate recycling facility. Recent events in North America highlight that without proper guidelines and monitoring in place, loads of material commingled with mercury products may find their way to makeshift smelting and metal recovery initiatives in the developing world. In addition, legitimate recyclers will find themselves unable to compete against these low-cost markets, which could undermine their industry.
Cindy Thomas, plant manager for Noranda’s new Brampton recycling facility says, “The risk of a stewardship program not setting environmentally sound management (ESM) guidelines or vendor qualifications is that the only criteria for selecting recycling service providers will be cost.”
“Many low cost electronics recyclers do not want to invest in the labour to remove mercury-containing bulbs from scanners or photocopiers prior to processing. As a result, the mercury in the bulb may be released to the environment when it is either shredded or landfilled.”
Fluorescent Lamp Recyclers (FLR) has facilities in Montreal and Cambridge. Its technology separates and recycles the glass, mercury, phosphor, aluminum and brass components of the tubes. Mercury is then sent to reprocessing facilities in the U.S. where it’s used in new products where take-back programs exist.
Unfortunately, mercury re-use in products is not the ideal solution, considering that these take-back schemes are rarely effective, and that its use should really be prohibited. However, without any federal-operated or mandated mercury storage sites, options are limited.
“This is no long-term solution, but at least it reduces the need for mining of virgin mercury,” says Tom Maxwell, president of FLR.