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City's 'bulb eater' helps with disposal problem

Red Deer has a device for safely disposing of compact fluorescent bulbs, but city staff are looking at other ways to dispose of the popular new bulbs.

The CFLs, which are replacing the incandescent bulb on store shelves, last longer but also contain a small amount of mercury.

To accommodate the safe disposal of these bulbs, City of Red Deer Waste Management Department superintendent Janet Whitesell said the city has a Bulb Eater, a device that turns the bulbs into powder and removes the mercury.

“It attaches to the top of a 55-gallon barrel and the mercury in those types of bulbs is actually in the powder inside them,” said Whitesell. “What the Bulb Eater does is it crushes the bulbs and as the glass is breaking, it has a vacuum that pulls the powder out of it. Then the powder gets captured in a filter and the glass and metal ends fall into the barrel.”

However, the device only works on unbroken bulbs.

If a bulb breaks before someone is able to take it to the city’s household hazardous waste dropoff site, there are different steps that can be taken (see the city’s website at

Whitesell said the city has seen an increase in the number of bulbs brought to the household hazardous waste dropoff site.

She said it costs the city to get rid of the bulbs but there is no charge to residents for dropping off CFLs.

The city is examining alternatives to meet a growing demand for bulb disposal.

“We haven’t decided if we need to change our program, but we have been looking at it,” said Whitesell.

In 2012, Red Deer shipped 35 55-gallon barrels of crushed glass from CFLs that were dropped off at the household hazardous waste site.

Next year, a new federal regulation will come into effect banning the sale of the standard incandescent bulbs, but a report by Environment Canada found that Canada’s mercury-waste facilities were lacking. The study also indicated there is no national or industry standard for handling mercury waste.

The study surveyed 28 of the 123 places that store or manage mercury waste and found Canada lacks any facility to extract pure mercury from waste. Currently, mercury distillers in the United States are relied upon.



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