'We will not pick up toxic new bulbs': Councils say energy-saving lights are too dangerous for binmenBy George Arbuthnott
Fears: One of the low-energy lightbulbs that are classed as 'hazardous waste'
But confused consumers are putting the new bulbs – classed as hazardous waste – in their dustbins when they burn out, potentially putting the safety of thousands of binmen at risk.
Previously, the public disposed of traditional lightbulbs, used in Britain for 120 years, in a domestic bin.
However, they are being phased out under a European Union ruling and are being replaced with energy-saving bulbs, many of which contain mercury.
Last night UNISON, the union which represents thousands of rubbish collectors across Britain, said it was concerned at the risks binmen are facing.
A spokeswoman said: ‘We are worried as most people do not know these bulbs are not to be put in dustbins. The Government is not doing enough to make people aware of the risks.’
The most common types of low-energy bulbs are known as ‘compact fluorescent lamps’.
A study by Germany’s Federal Environment Agency found that when one of them breaks, it emits levels of toxic vapour up to 20 times higher than the safe guideline limit for an indoor area.
If a bulb is smashed, the UK’s Health Protection Agency advice is for householders to evacuate the room and leave it to ventilate for 15 minutes.
People are also advised to wear protective gloves while wiping the area of the break with a damp cloth and picking up fragments of glass – which should be placed in a plastic bag and sealed.
The advice then states the lightbulb should be taken to a council dump and placed in a special recycling bank because councils do not collect hazardous waste.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed many councils will not collect the bulbs. A spokesman said last night: ‘If a low-energy lightbulb breaks, the mercury contained in it does not pose a health risk to anyone exposed.’
Last week a Mail on Sunday survey revealed the lightbulb market had been thrown into chaos since the traditional bulbs began to be phased out.
We found it was almost impossible to find a direct replacement for old-style lightbulbs from the vast array of bulbs of different shapes and sizes, power and prices now on offer.
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