MoEF drags feet over law for safe disposal of CFLs

Reasons for prolonged delay unknown

By Moyna
Published: Thursday 16 February 2012

Anyone who has tried to return used compact fluorescent bulbs or lamps (CFLs) so that they are disposed safely, knows the task is next to impossible. Disposal of CFLs is a major environmental concern because these bulbs contain mercury, a neurotoxin, which can damage the brain and cause behavioural disorders. But there is no law yet in India to ensure the safe disposal of CFLs, though it was supposed to be in place beginning 2012.

Industry figures state that CFL manufacturing has increased manifold—from 67 million pieces in 2005 to 304 million in 2010. According to a recent study, approximately 8.5 tonnes of mercury is leaching into the environment from CFL bulbs in India.

The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), which along with the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was to frame the law for the safe disposal of CFLs, has missed numerous deadlines. Their officials say the law will be in place soon, but they have been saying this for over two years now. In 2007, MoEF had set up a task force to look into the matter. The task force, comprising members of Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), CPCB, MoEF and industry representatives, submitted its report in May 2008. But the industry rejected the task force report, saying that if any of the suggestions were made mandatory, it would make CFLs expensive. The industry commissioned its own report, which was to be finalised in the beginning of 2012.

Industry report gathers dust

The Electric Lamp and Components Manufacturers' Association of India (ELCOMA), which represents the CFL manufacturing Industry, had commissioned The Energy Research Institute in 2009 to prepare the report. The draft was submitted along with a demonstration in December 2011.  The report looks at a number of options including a pilot project. The two-phase pilot is proposed beginning March 2012, reveal industry sources, but may be further delayed as it is yet to be approved by the government.

The report suggests a six month pilot project under which CFLs will be collected door-to-door and put in carbon coated drums. These drums will be used to crush the CFLs, which would be taken to another plant for extracting mercury and aluminium.

Satish Sinha of Toxics Links says the technology is not feasible as the carbon filters of the drums cannot be disposed safely without using highly expensive technology. Sinha is a member of the advisory committee looking at end-life-processes for CFLs. He says, objections were raised when the draft report was submitted. “As of now, I don’t know if the objections have been considered in the final report or not as the final report was not shown to us.” He explains there is only one way to get rid of the mercury-laden carbon filters of the drum crushers—by treating the mercury in a plant and converting it to sulphides. “The same technology is used in few manufacturers’ treatment plants like the one managed by Philips in Mohali,” he says.

CPCB sources say the feasibility of the proposed project is yet to be decided as the report has not been reviewed by the inter-ministerial group. Mita Sharma, scientist and in-charge of the co-ordination cell of CPCB and the CFL disposal project says she is yet to receive the report. “Till a consolidated view is formed within the government, no comment can be made,” she says. She also says the reasons for this prolonged delay are unknown.

More delays

Once the report is submitted to the ministry it will be reviewed and may require further changes, following which the finance ministry and Parliament would decide if the project can be implemented. Further, setting up plants and starting the project may take anything between six months to a year.

Meanwhile, garbage collectors, waste pickers and people using CFLs in their homes continue to be in danger of getting exposed to mercury.

Annual manufacturing trends in India by lamps category Quantity
(in million pieces)
Category 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Incandescent lamps 711 757 779 734 766 797
  180      186 190 186 179   182
Source: ELCOMA

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