Proposed code of practice for management of end-of-life lamps containing mercury: chapter 1

1. Preface

Mercury is an essential component in some energy-efficient lamps such as fluorescent tubes and light bulbs. Mercury-containing lamps use a low-pressure mercury electrical discharge in which a fluorescing coating transforms ultraviolet energy into visible light. These lamps contain a small amount of mercury which may be released when the lamps break or are improperly disposed as regular garbage. The mercury vapour released from these broken lamps poses a potential risk to human health and the environment. Thus, it is important that mercury-containing lamps are managed properly at their end of life to prevent the release of mercury to the environment.

Mercury is a toxic, naturally occurring, chemical element that can cycle between air, water, land, plants and animals for extended periods of time, and may be carried over long distances in the atmosphere. In the environment, micro-organisms and natural processes convert mercury to more harmful forms of the metal, such as methyl mercury. Readily absorbed by organisms, methyl mercury bioaccumulates in living tissue and becomes increasingly potent as it moves up the food chain. In humans, methyl mercury can cause an array of health problems including brain damage and neurological development effects in fetuses, infants and young children. Mercury accumulates in northern regions via atmospheric circulation processes, and poses a particular risk to those who eat large amounts of fish or marine mammals such as northern Indigenous Peoples who rely on traditional foods.

Mercury and its compounds are toxic substances listed on Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999). Recognizing that products containing mercury need to be properly managed to protect the environment and safeguard human health, on November 19, 2014, the Government of Canada published the final Products Containing Mercury Regulations which prohibit the manufacture and import of products containing mercury or any of its compounds, with some exemptions for essential products that have no technically or economically viable alternatives. In the case of lamps, the Regulations set mercury content limits for fluorescent and other types of lamps, and require labels to inform consumers about the presence of mercury, as well as safe handling procedures and options available for the end-of-life management of these products.Footnote1

As part of the Government of Canada’s approach to reducing mercury releases and emissions to the environment,Footnote2 Environment and Climate Change Canada (the Department) has developed this proposed code of practice for the environmentally sound management of mercury-containing lamps at their end of life, which also includes options for diverting and managing spent lamps in remote and northern areas. Environmentally sound management of spent lamps means ensuring that they are collected separately from the general waste stream, stored, handled, transported and processed in a manner that prevents releases of the mercury to the environment. It also means that mercury from the waste products is recovered or stabilized prior to environmentally sound disposal in a hazardous waste landfill.

This code of practice is a voluntary tool developed to complement provincial, territorial and local efforts, and to promote best practices for managing end-of-life mercury-containing lamps. Several provinces have established, or are currently establishing, policies, legislation, programs and other measures for extended producer responsibilityFootnote3 to collect and manage end-of-life lamps. These measures contribute to the implementation of the Canada-wide Action Plan for Extended Producer Responsibility, which commits the Canadian jurisdictions to work towards the development of extended producer responsibility framework legislation or regulations to ensure that various end-of-life products and materials are diverted from landfills. During the development of this code of practice, the Department consulted with experts from provincial and territorial governments, industry and stewardship organizations, and other stakeholders.

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