Before you toss that used light bulb into the bin, stop and think because almost every part of it can be made into something new and usable
Before you toss that used light bulb into the bin, stop and think because almost every part of it can be made into something new and usable

Have you ever wondered what happens to old light bulbs when the lights finally go out? Tossed into the trash, these used bulbs usually end up in a landfill. There, there is a risk that mercury will leak out when the lamps break, contaminating the environment. Since heavy metal does not break down in the environment and builds up when it passes up the food chain, the poison will not only circulate but continue to be a hazard for a long time to come.

And the harm that mercury poisoning can wreak is frightening. In small doses, it affects the nervous, digestion, and immune systems; lungs; and kidneys. In larger doses or when exposed for a long time, it can even lead to death. Expectant moms who are exposed risk compromising their children’s mental development.

A Bright Idea

Yet, this need not be the outcome if steps are taken to recycle used light bulbs. It is with this green outcome in mind that CapitaMalls Asia (CMA) embarked on its Luminaire and Lamp Recycling programme to recycle its malls’ and tenants’ used light bulbs.

“We are in the process of converting most of the old bulbs in the malls into LED ones to save energy. As the number of used bulbs started to accumulate, we began to seriously consider a more environmentally-friendly way of dealing with them beyond disposing of them properly,” explained Adrian Ting, Senior Manager, Design Management, CapitaMalls Asia.

CMA thus started working with Singapore’s first and only light bulb recycling facility to give its used light bulbs a new lease of life. The recycling initiative received the Gold Award at the CapitaLand Environmental, Health and Safety Awards 2013 (CL EHS Awards), under the category of Stakeholders Engagement. The in-house award aims to recognise outstanding EHS performances across CapitaLand Group as sustainability is integral to the Group’s business.

Journey of a Used Light Bulb

The journey of a used light bulb at CMA begins at the dedicated recycling boxes located in CapitaMalls across Singapore, where light bulbs that have expired or been replaced during Asset Enhancement Initiatives, are collected.

“We provide a separate bin for the light bulbs in the recycling centre instead of a public area in the mall, so that members of the public don’t throw their trash into these bins by accident and risk contaminating the light bulbs. Once contaminated, the light bulbs cannot be recycled,” said Ting.

Once the bins are full, the recycling company, Global Lamp Recyclers, collects the light bulbs and brings them to its recycling plant.

At the plant, the light bulbs are counted and the numbers are recorded. Then, the action begins! The light bulbs are fed into a machine called the Mercury Recovery Technology (MRT).

The MRT machine crushes the light bulbs and sucks the mercury into a cyclone filter where a charcoal filter absorbs the mercury, releasing clean air. The other parts of the light bulbs – phosphor, metal, plastic, and glass – are filtered into separate containers.

New Life Begins

Each separate part of the light bulb is then re-used. The glass replaces the sand needed to make cement for non-structural items like bollards, drain covers, and car park covers.

The phosphorus and mercury in powder form are put into containers and sold to factories in China for use in the production of new light bulbs.

The metal and plastic are sold locally as scrap to be reused.

In the year since CMA has embarked on this recycling programme, it has sent more than 15,000 bulbs to be recycled.

Keeping the Switch On Recycling

“We are very encouraged by the progress the malls have made in the recycling of used light bulbs,” said Mr Ting.

“Not only are our mall management teams making the extra effort to recycle the used light bulbs, tenants have come on board this initiative. Before this programme started, our tenants had no avenue to recycle their light bulbs. Now they have a green solution at their doorsteps. We have also roped in our contractors by sharing with them about our recycling programme so that they don’t toss the light bulbs they removed from our malls.”

Editor's Note (June 2016) : The light bulb recycling programme has ceased. CapitaLand Malls Asia remains committed to recycling and will explore new recycling programmes on an ad-hoc and permanent basis. This is in addition to the paper, plastic and metal recycling at all our properties.