by Matt Prindiville, NRCM Toxics Project Director
Senator Goodall, Representative Duchesne and members of the Natural Resources Committee. My name is Matt Prindiville, and I’m the Clean Production Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. We strongly support LD 973, and we thank Representative Berry for bringing this bill to the attention of the committee.
Let me start by saying that we believe compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) are a great product. NRCM has been promoting these light bulbs for years, along with hundreds of environmental organizations around the country. With the increased consumer awareness about rising energy costs, CFLs have been purchased and installed in homes and businesses at a rapid pace, saving money, reducing energy demand, and air, global warming and mercury pollution. These bulbs can save from $30 to $100 in avoided electricity costs over the lifetime of bulb. If the average homeowner in Maine switched out their estimated 40 light sockets with CFLs, they could, at a minimum, save more than $1,200 over the lifetime of these bulbs; not to mention saving over 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide which would be like not driving your car for over half a year.
The problem, and the reason why were all here is that they contain small amounts of mercury, so they need to be disposed of properly when they burn out. Even though every part of a CFL, including the mercury, can be captured and recycled into new products, EPA estimates that only about 2% of these bulbs are currently collected and recycled. To prevent the mercury in CFLs from escaping into our homes and the environment, Maine needs they type of collection and recycling program proposed by LD 973.
Right now, many towns collect CFLs, but they typically charge a dollar to recycle them. In this case, the costs of managing the mercury are born by the taxpayers, and the charge is likely a deterrent for many people. Some towns only collect them once a year at HHW days. Efficiency Maine has a collection program at participating hardware stores, but it’s funded through a charge on your electricity bill that is supposed to go to energy efficiency investments not waste management programs. There are also serious questions as to how long Efficiency Maine will continue to run it. Last year that program collected 4,000 bulbs but it rebated over 1.2 million. Having ratepayers pay to recycle 4,000 bulbs is one thing, but when you’re talking about millions of bulbs, you’re talking real money.
In terms of putting in place an ongoing program, there are several options. One approach is to create a program modeled after Maine’s successful electronic waste recycling law. The producers of the product would be responsible for end-of-life recovery and recycling costs. That is the approach proposed in LD 973, and it’s been a huge success in Maine for e-waste. The e-waste law has participation from over 150 manufacturers representing 350 brands, has saved Maine people $4.5 million dollars, kept over 1.5 million pounds of lead – plus significant amounts of mercury, cadmium, and other toxic compounds – out of our environment, and ensured safe recycling of over 14 million pounds of toxic electronic waste. Maine’s e-waste law, crafted through the leadership of this committee, has become the national model with 16 other states having followed suit in adopting similar laws.
Yet, there was a lot of opposition when the e-waste law was proposed. Only one manufacturer, Hewlett Packard, stood up and said, “This is the right thing to do.” This committee and the Legislature were persuaded then, and I hope you’ll be persuaded now, that this is the right approach – to internalize the costs of collecting and recycling the mercury-containing product at the end of the useful life of the bulbs.
You may hear, later in this hearing, from one or more representatives from the companies that manufacture these bulbs, that the cost of recycling will be a killer, that people won’t buy the light bulbs if they cost more and that companies might not even sell them. Well, we heard those same arguments with e-waste, the exact same arguments, and as far as I know, the e-waste bill had not had any impact on computer sales in Maine. And we believe that creation of a producer-financed recycling program for CFLs, similarly, would not affect sales in Maine.
This position is supported by the analysis attached to my testimony, which shows that, even with 100% recovery rates, which is what we hope for, but we likely won’t get even close at first, the impact of the program required by LD 973 might be just 15 cents per bulb. For perspective on this cost increment, it is worth recalling that CFLs just a few years ago were selling for $6 to $10 dollars a piece. Now they’re down to $3/bulb on average, and even less in many cases. I walked into Wal-mart the other day and bough a 4-pack of 60 watt equivalents for $6.44. That’s about $1.60 a bulb for a light bulb that will save me about $50 over its lifetime. Fifteen cents internalized into the cost of a bulb, at these new low costs for CFLs, will not affect sales in our opinion.
When talking about costs, it is also important to note that Maine ratepayers, through the Efficiency Maine rebate program, and the U.S. government have supported a massive education campaign in support of CFLs, helping boost sales of these products for all of the manufacturers who may testify against this bill today.
Some may say that the costs of a CFL recycling program should be assigned to the electric utilities, or left to the taxpayers in some fashion. Such proposals won’t work. We left taxpayers on the hook with e-waste before passing the recycling law, and that didn’t work. Millions of TVs and computers were stockpiled in basements and attics because people didn’t know what to do with them, and I suspect the same is happening with CFLs. I get calls at NRCM on a regular basis from people with spent CFLs asking what they’re supposed to do with them. With passage of LD 973, people would be able to drop off their used bulbs at participating stores and transfer stations throughout Maine. It would be easy, and the bulbs would end up being recycled, and not wind up in municipal waste incinerators or landfills, or smashed in the trash in our homes.
Over the last decade, Maine has systematically and very successfully been identifying mercury in products for the purpose of removing it from the waste stream, and this committee has shown tremendous leadership. Maine has been following through with a plan that was put in place in 1998 when the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premieres established a goal of virtual elimination of mercury into the environment from consumer products and other sources. Creating an effective recycling system for CFLs is a logical next step in the effort to keep mercury out of the environment.
CFL manufacturers may claim that they are not in the recycling business, but they are. For the past several years, CFL manufacturers have been part of successful producer-financed, shared responsibility recycling programs for mercury-containing lighting in the European Union. British Columbia began a producer-financed CFL recycling initiative this year and four more Canadian provinces have similar programs in the works. LD 973 will put a system in place that producers are already abiding by in these other jurisdictions.
On a positive note, the lamp manufacturers have been working hard to reduce the mercury content in their lamps, and we’re partnering on an amendment to standardize the mercury-content standard language in the bill with language agreed to in other states.
We’re also happy to work with them on the purchasing language so that the state purchases the most energy-efficient, low mercury bulbs without diminishing competition.
The real issue is going to be the recycling program. CFL lighting is an important part of our strategies to reduce energy costs, but we need a free, convenient, statewide system to collect these bulbs at the end of their useful life. NRCM urges you to vote Ought to Pass on LD 973, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.