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Home Depot launches CFL-recycling program nationwide

Consumer Reports News: June 24, 2008 03:21 PM

Home Depot has done something other major retailers and government at many levels throughout the country have not been able to implement. The home-improvement retailing behemoth today started a free collecting/recycling program for compact fluorescent lightbulbs, or CFLs, at its 1,973 U.S. stores; a similar program at Canadian stores started last fall.

“Recycling is expensive, but if you’re waiting for recycling [of CFLs] to be economically feasible, you’ll never do it,” says Ron Jarvis, Home Depot’s senior vice president for environmental innovation. The retailer’s effort is not a pilot program—it’s here to stay, according to Jarvis, who adds, “We won’t increase the cost of CFLs.”

The move by Home Depot comes at a time when more Americans are installing these bulbs that use about 75 percent less energy to produce the same amount of light as standard incandescent lightbulbs. In 2007, Home Depot stores in this country sold 75 million CFLs; Wal-Mart, 137 million.

Those energy savings don’t come without a cost: CFLs contain mercury, a neurotoxin. (All of the manufacturers of the Energy Star-qualified CFLs we tested claim to use less than 5 milligrams of mercury per bulb.) The presence of mercury raises several issues, including the recycling and the handling of broken bulbs.

To recycle CFLs at a Home Depot, you bring spent, unbroken bulbs to the store’s returns desk. (Starting in September the stores will have special receptacles on-site for the bulbs.) There’s no fee, and the stores will accept any CFLs, even those you didn’t buy from a Home Depot. The CFLs will be shipped to a recycling company, which will break down and recycle the bulbs and properly deal with the mercury, according to Home Depot.

Here’s hoping that Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, and other retailers nationwide follow Home Depot’s lead.—Kimberly Janeway

Essential information: Read our comparison of the major brands of CFLs (available to subscribers).


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