01/28/2015 03:09 EST | Updated 03/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Ontario considering a ban on compact fluorescent light bulbs from landfills

TORONTO - Ontario may impose a total ban on disposing of compact fluorescent light bulbs in landfills because they contain mercury which can leach into the earth, Environment Minister Glen Murray said Wednesday.

About two to three per cent of the material ending up in landfills is toxic, and the government is talking with municipalities and industry groups to find ways of diverting fluorescent bulbs, batteries, paint and similar items from dumps.

"Do we include a ban on these? This is one of the things that's on the table right now," Murray told reporters ahead of a cabinet meeting. "That has implications for industry and for municipalities, and we're just not going to do that unilaterally."

An update to Ontario's Waste Reduction and Diversion Act is expected to be introduced "a little bit later this year," added Murray.

The province is in the middle of "extensive consultations" with municipal governments and producers of fluorescent bulbs and other products with heavy metals and other toxic materials to find the best ways of keeping them out of landfills.

"We're making sure we get this right, that we've got something that will work, that consumers will understand, municipalities can work with, retailers and producers can understand and manage," said Murray.

"There's a wide amount of disagreement about what the right solution is. We don't have a consensus, and we need the co-operation of those folks."

Currently, energy-efficient compact bulbs and florescent light tubes can be dropped off at depots in some municipalities and at some large, chain stores — Rona, Canadian Tire and Ikea.

If a bulb breaks, people are advised to open the windows, shut off the furnace or air conditioning, leave the room for 10 minutes and then carefully clean up the material.

The New Democrats said there's no point banning fluorescent bulbs from landfills if there's no system for safe, easy disposal.

"My corner store takes old batteries," said New Democrat energy critic Peter Tabuns. "It should be that convenient so I can just go and drop (the bulbs) off there."

Consumers should also see clear information on packages that show the light bulbs or other items that contain toxic materials must be disposed of in a specific manner and not thrown in the trash, added Tabuns.

"How hard can it be to put a label on a product and put a system in place that people can dispose of them safely and easily," he asked. "There has to be a much broader network for the collection of this material."

Not all of the fluorescent bulbs end up in landfills. The Ministry of the Environment said about 200 tonnes of the bulbs are recycled in Ontario each year through various programs, including municipal depots and retailers. There is also a program run by the Recycling Council of Ontario called 'Take Back the Light.'

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