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November 7, 2011

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No disposal plan for toxic bulbs

MILLIONS of energy-saving lightbulbs containing mercury will soon need replacing in city homes, yet no provision has been made for their safe disposal, experts warned yesterday.

For while Shanghai and other parts of the country promote the use of the energy-efficient bulbs - with a new initiative announced last Friday - there is an absence of legislation regarding their disposal.

"Without secure disposal, these products pose great danger to the environment," warned Jiang Jianhua, an engineer and city legislator.

Aware of a looming problem, some legislators are now looking to introduce laws to tackle the issue.

Helped by government subsidies, more than 27 million energy-efficient lightbulbs have been fitted in Shanghai homes since 2009.

Experts say millions of them are now nearing the end of their lives.

Each bulb contains 0.5 milligrams of poisonous mercury - enough to contaminate 180 tons of water. This could happen if a bulb breaks and the mercury contained leaks into the water system.

Exposure to mercury damages the nervous system, while an intake of 2.5 grams of the metal can be fatal.

The city has said it will offer subsidies on 5 million energy-saving bulbs in the coming year and increase the subsidized quota for each household from five to 10 bulbs.

Posters promoting this have been put up in many communities.

Qian Yiliang, another legislator, said the government should offer incentives for residents to swap used bulbs for new ones.

This would put old ones in the hands of watchdogs who could ensure they were properly disposed of to avoid causing environmental pollution.

"If used energy-saving bulbs are thrown away with other domestic waste, they will inevitably turn into an environmental killer," Qian warned.

Local laws require companies producing energy-saving bulbs to "properly" dispose of their products.

However, there are no terms specifying how this should be carried out, nor what punishment companies would face for not doing this.

Legislators said they are considering how to improve current legislation or introduce a new law to ensure proper disposal and stipulate punishments for companies that fail to do so.

Future regulations might also require government watchdogs to supervise the safe disposal of the bulbs, legislators said.

National authorities announced on Friday that China is to phase out power-draining lightbulbs, in a bid to save energy.

The country will ban the import and sale of 100-watt and higher incandescent bulbs from next October, while lower-wattage bulbs will be withdrawn by 2016.

Currently, 12 percent of China's total electricity use goes to lighting.


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