As of Jan. 2014, a new federal law will ban the sale of standard incandescent bulbs in Canada. Instead, consumers will have to purchase energy-efficient lightbulbs, which contain high levels of mercury, something the country is unprepared for.
Highly toxic chemical light bulbs are slated to enter the marketplace next January, but there aren’t a sufficient number of mercury-waste facilities to handle the millions of bulbs that will light the homes of Canadians. Essentially, the country is ill-equipped for the new bulbs, according to a report commissioned by Environment Canada.
One danger is when compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) become part of the waste streams when the bulbs break or die. The CFLs will become part of the landfill and could get into the water, a dangerous scenario because mercury is quite harmful.
According to the $47,000 127-page study that was commissioned last summer and obtained by the Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, there were no national or even industry-wide standards for handling mercury waste.
“The sector is notably lacking distillation facilities that make mercury re-use possible,” the report stated. “This suggests that Canada may need to lay the groundwork for investigating best practices for longer-term storage options for elemental mercury as export bans in other jurisdictions, such as the USA, could negatively impact their demand for mercury waste from Canadian sources.”
The ban was first announced in 2007 by former Conservative Environment Minister John Baird, who was under immense pressure to take action on climate change. It was originally supposed to come into effect in 2012, but was delayed by two years because of concerns among consumers.
Some provinces also issued postponements. Ontario Environment Minister Chris Bentley confirmed in late 2011 that the province would abolish the five-year promise to ban incandescent light bulbs.
The purpose of the ban was to reduce mercury in the environment. Environmentalists, who lauded the ban measures, say the old-style light bulbs are inefficient and need more electricity from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels that can emit mercury into the air.
Last week, Health Canada, Environment Canada, Environmental Defence and Summerhill Impact published a list of facts and figures regarding mercury:
- More than one quarter of Canada’s domestic emissions contain mercury
- Small amounts of mercury can cause serious health issues, such as memory loss, headaches and insomnia
- Consumers of CFLs should not throw them into the garbage and instead transport them to a waste facility