A waste and pollution watch group today urged Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi to prevent a multi-million peso mercury lamp waste recycling project of his department from turning into a white elephant.
In an e-mail sent today, the non-profit EcoWaste Coalition expressed serious concern over the non-operation of the lamp waste recycling facility equipped with mercury recovery that the Department of Energy (DoE) procured in 2013.
Procured for US$1.37 million as part of the Asian Development Bank-funded Philippine Energy Efficiency Project, DoE successfully operated the Swedish-supplied equipment during the pilot phase in 2013-2014. It has yet to find a public or private entity to operate the facility on a full-scale.
DoE, according to the project description, “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).
The group asked Cusi to convene an emergency multistakeholders 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,” read the group’s e-mail to Cusi, which was endorsed by over 80 environmentalists.
“The facility has been idle for years while the arbitrary disposal of busted mercury lamps continues unabated,” noted Thony Dizon, Chemical Safety Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
“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,” he emphasized.
“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.
“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,” said the United Nations Environment (formerly called the United Nations Environment Programme).
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
According to the report, “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.