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WMEAC and Local Partners Light the Way for Recycling CFLs

CFL Recycle Bucket

CFL Recycle Bucket /Ann Earhardt, WMEAC

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The West Michigan Environmental Action Council is continuing the community education initiative it began earlier this year with Project Light Change. Recycling compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) is the focus of the latest phase of the project. “The recycling project is a logical extension from Project Light Change,” said Ann Erhardt of WMEAC.

The CFL recycling project is in collaboration with Michigan Energy Options, a statewide nonprofit organization promoting energy-efficiency and sustainability programs, and the Grand Rapids-based Sustainable Research Group. The partnership’s goal is to provide 525 five-gallon CFL recycling buckets to over 200 locations for businesses, neighborhood associations and nonprofit community groups, with approximately 23-25 locations based in Grand Rapids. 

Becky Jo Farrington of Michigan Energy Options estimated that the project could recycle approximately 47,000 CFLs statewide in Michigan “with 200 participating locations that will each recycle 180-270 light bulbs each.” The groups are in a push to distribute free buckets to Michigan area businesses and community groups as the project has grant funding through the end of August.

“It’s in the county’s interest to recycle and divert materials from landfills,” said Tavio Benetti of Sustainable Research Group. “By expanding the number of CFL recycling locations accessible to consumers, our hope is to increase the diversion rate of mercury from improper disposal and prevent additional mercury from entering our watersheds and ecosystems."

"Based on our research, successful CFL recycling initiatives rely on multi-stakeholder support including the public, private and non-profit sectors. Each of these entities is well-suited to provide a unique aspect of the CFL collection infrastructure,” Benetti added.

CFLs, while far more energy efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs, pose a potentially hazardous situation when it comes to disposal. According to WMEAC, household waste in Kent County is primarily sent to a waste incinerator.  CFLs discarded in the garbage are sent to the waste incinerator and result in toxic airborne emissions of mercury directly in the community.  This is why recycling the CFLs is vital.  Mercury contained within the CFL is never released as long as the bulb is intact or in use.  By placing the discarded CFL bulbs in the recycle buckets, it ensures the bulbs are safely recycled locally and prevents mercury from contaminating the environment.

Getting the word out is part of the challenge of this project. Farrington is enthusiastic about the myriad of possibilities available for communication, citing a blitz of social media, printed newsletters, word of mouth and even the possibility of television advertising in Marquette. 

Erhardt agrees that education and awareness are the cornerstones of any successful recycling initiative. “We need to remove barriers so recycling can become more convenient. We also need to continue to raise awareness in communities.”

Recycling is gaining a higher profile with the new single-stream recycling bins provided by the Kent County Department of Public Works. The bins enable the recycler to mix all their “clean plastic jugs, metal cans, glass bottles and paper products together in one container,” according to the department's Website.

For businesses, this will all change as the January 2012 deadline approaches for new federal standards for incandescent light bulbs. According to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the purpose is “to move the United States toward greater energy independence and security, to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers, to increase the efficiency of products, buildings, and vehicles, to promote research.”

Benetti acknowledged the need to “bolster the recycling infrastructure,” and Earhardt added that West Michigan needs to be “ahead of the curve.”

A list of the locations WMEAC/SRG have connected with to become CFL Recyling sites:

South East

  • East Hills Council of Neighbors (131 Eastern SE)
  • South East Community Association (1408 Madison Avenue SE)
  • Eastown Community Association (415 Ethel Avenue SE)
  • Baxter Neighborhood Association (746 Neland Avenue SE)
  • Midtown Neighborhood Association (1147 E. Fulton SE)
  • Heritage Hill Neighborhood Association (126 College Avenue SE)
  • Garfield Park Neighborhood Association (334 Burton Street SE)
  • Oakdale Neighbors (1260 Kalamazoo SE)
  • Alger Hardware & Rental (2408 Eastern Avenue SE)
  • Spirit Dreams (1430 Lake Drive SE)
  • Clothing Matters (141 Diamond Avenue SE, 415 Norwood Avenue SE)

South West

  • United Church Community Outreach ( 1311 Chicago Drive SW)
  • Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association (1260 Grandville Avenue SW)
  • Viking Fitness (2040 Division Avenue SW)

North West

  • Fulton Pharmacy (738 West Fulton Street NW)
  • West Grand Neighborhood Organization (415 Leonard Street NW)
  • John Ball Park Neighborhood Association (1300 West Fulton Street NW)
  • Nawara Brother’s Appliance & John Ball Hardware (1030 West Fulton Street NW)

North East

  • Stone’s Throw Furniture (1428 Plainfield Avenue NE)
  • West Michigan Environmental Action Council (1007 Lake Drive)


A complete list of all businesses accepting CFLs in GR  is available at Michigan Energy Options' Website has more information about 5 gallon CFL recycling bins in Michigan and Kent County Recycling and Education Center also has an abundance of information about recycling in Grand Rapids. For a complete list of West Michigan recycling locations, click through to WMEAC's site.


If your CFL breaks at home 

  1. Open a window and air out the room for 15 minutes.
  2. Clean up the broken glass and powder using sticky tape. Avoid contact with skin.
  3. Wipe the area with a damp paper towel.
  4. Place the broken glass, bulb base, and cleaning supplies into a sealable bag. Dispose of the bag in the trash outside. 


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