bc-101231-cf-lightbulb

B.C. is phasing out the century-old incandescent lightbulb in favour of the compact fluorescent variety, above. (CBC)

A new green initiative taking effect Saturday in British Columbia will mean residents of the province will soon say goodbye to some incandescent light bulbs.

But the shift is being made despite longstanding concerns about the environmental hazards posed by the alternative — the compact fluorescent light.

A prohibition taking effect with the arrival of 2011 prevents retailers in the province from ordering 75 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs once their stock runs out and then selling only CFLs.

CFLs use one-third or less of the energy of incandescent bulbs and last between eight and 15 times longer.

But you can't just throw compact fluorescents out when they die and must recycle them, because they contain mercury, according to B.C. Hydro's Jennifer Young.

"CFLs should not be in the garbage for disposal," Young said. "Many retailers like the Home Depot and Canadian Tire offer free recycling."

Each CFL contains about five mg of mercury, enough to make 6,000 gallons of water toxic.

Mercury can cause brain and kidney damage in humans.

Demand for curbside recycling

The new bulbs' hazards have not been well communicated and there should be an easily accessible and widespread public recycling program for them, said Bruce Cran, the president of the Consumer's Association of Canada.

"They shouldn't end up in landfills," said Cran. "Yet, at the present point in time, there doesn't seem to be any information or a real plan in place to dispose of those bulbs."

Cran said a provincewide curbside recycling program should be put in place.

If you break a CFL bulb, you should not vacuum it up, said Young. Instead, sweep the contents into a plastic bag and take it to a recycler.

A list of recyclers is available at lightrecycle.org.

With files from the CBC's Mike Clarke