Nova Scotia

Canadians will soon have a law on how to dispose of mercury-filled light bulbs

Bill C-238, which received royal assent on Thursday, aims to reduce the amount of mercury that ends up in Canada's landfills.

Bill C-238, which received royal assent Thursday, aims to reduce amount of mercury that goes to landfill

Compact fluorescent light bulbs contain mercury, which contaminates the environment if it ends up in a landfill. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Canadians will soon have guidance from the federal government on how to dispose of mercury-containing light bulbs in an environmentally responsible way.

Bill C-238, a new act that sets out rules for a national light bulb disposal strategy, received royal assent on Thursday.

The National Strategy for Safe and Environmentally Sound Disposal of Lamps Containing Mercury Act commits the government to identify ways to dispose of mercury-containing light bulbs safely and establish guidelines for facilities that dispose of them, and then promote the program to Canadians.

The bill also requires the environment minister to table the national strategy in Parliament within two years of the act receiving royal assent. 

No regulations

Dartmouth-Cole Harbour MP Darren Fisher, who introduced the private member's bill, said there were no federal regulations outlining how to dispose of light bulbs.

"You can take your mercury-bearing light bulb, and you can throw it in your garbage bag and put it to the curb," he said.

Darren Fisher, MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, introduced Bill C-238 as a private member's bill. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

One regular, 13-watt residential compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) — the curly looking ones that are slowly replacing the traditional, round incandescent bulbs — contains on average 3.5 milligrams of mercury. Energy Star-certified CFLs contain 2.5 milligrams or less. Fluorescent tubes contain up to 12 milligrams.

Fisher said about 1,150 kilograms of mercury end up in Canadian landfills each year, and can contaminate the environment.

Mercury is also listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

"So this is an incredibly big issue," he said. 

Compact fluorescents on the rise

A 2014 federal ban on most residential incandescent bulbs means more Canadians are using compact fluorescent bulbs. A 2014 report from Statistics Canada noted that in 2011, three-quarters of households across the country used at least one CFL bulb.

About half the households that used CFLs reported throwing them in the garbage, and Haligonians were the most likely to toss them, with 84 per cent doing so, the report said.

'Piecemeal' approach

Recycling facilities in some municipalities and provinces break CFL bulbs down and recycle about 98 per cent of the components, including the mercury. Some retailers also collect used bulbs to send to recyclers.

Compact fluorescent light bulbs are broken down and about 98 per cent of the material is recycled. (Stu Mills/CBC)

But Fisher described that as a "piecemeal" approach.

He encourages Canadians to recycle their bulbs or simply hold on to them until the new law is developed.

"If the worst thing you have to do is put them in a cardboard box and leave them in your garage until the strategy comes forward, please do so, because what we'd like to see is no mercury-bearing light bulbs going into our landfills across Canada," said Fisher.

With files from Brett Ruskin