Save the PH mercury lamp recycling project – Ecowaste Coalition

Image ©

A PHILIPPINE based environment and public health watchdog today asked Department of Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi to prevent from turning his department’s multi-million peso mercury lamp waste recycling project into a white elephant.

In an e-mail sent to Cusi, the EcoWaste Coalition has expressed serious concern over the non-operation of the lamp waste recycling facility which is capable mercury recovery. The facility was procured for USD$1.37 million by the DoE in 2013 as part of the Asian Development Bank-funded Philippine Energy Efficiency Project.

The DoE successfully operated the Swedish-supplied equipment during the pilot phase in 2013-2014. Nevertheless, the DoE has yet to find a public or private entity that would operate the facility on a full-scale basis.

According to the project description, the DoE “aims to provide a facility where all spent mercury-containing lamps shall undergo recycling to recover mercury and other by-products (to) avert residual mercury from entering the food chain through landfill leaching into groundwater.”

The recycling facility has the capacity to treat six million lamps per year for 8-hour daily operations, retrieving 88% glass, 5% metals, 3% powders with rare earth, 0.005% mercury and 4% other materials (including resinous materials).

DoE Secretary Alfonso Cusi. Photo ©

In its e-mail, which was endorsed by 80 environmentalists, the coalition asked Cusi to convene an emergency multi-stakeholders meeting to address the barriers to the facility’s full operation.

“We urge your office to seriously look into this matter, and ensure that the facility will not become a white elephant while the problem with the unsafe disposal of mercury lamp waste in the country persists,” the coalition pleaded.

“The facility has been idle for years while the arbitrary disposal of busted mercury lamps continues unabated,” noted Thony Dizon, EcoWaste Coalition chemical safety campaigner.

Moreover, Dizon emphasized that “the lack of a sufficient program to safely manage mercury lamp waste from collection, storage, recycling to disposal is a serious environmental and health challenge that must be resolved.”

“Improper disposal of spent fluorescent lamps such as by dumping or burning can result in mercury spilling out of their glass tube, contaminating the surroundings with mercury and endangering waste workers, the general public and the wildlife,” he explained.

The United Nations Environment (formerly known as the UN Environment Programme or UNEP) issued a similar statement.

“When products containing mercury are disposed of and broken or burned and the mercury escapes from them, the mercury begins to circulate in the biosphere,” the UNE said.

Among the common sources of mercury in the municipal solid waste include mercury-containing batteries, light bulbs, electrical and electronic equipment, skin whitening cosmetics, and dental amalgam fillings.

According to the EcoWaste Coalition’s photo investigative report entitled “The Toxic Silence of the Lamps,” the haphazard disposal of mercury-containing lamp waste is widespread in Metro Manila’s 17 local government units.

Furthermore, the report said “the indiscriminate disposal of busted or spent fluorescent lamps as common trash is not only polluting the surroundings but is also exposing waste handlers, informal recyclers and the public to mercury, a potent neurotoxin, which can lead to acute and chronic intoxication even at low levels of exposure.”

The Minamata Convention on Mercury, which the Philippines has yet to ratify despite signing it in 2013, provides for, among other targets, the phase-out by 2020 of compact fluorescent lamps equal to or less than 30 watts containing more than 5 mg mercury per bulb. Other types of mercury-containing lamps are also subject to the same phase-out period.

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