BOMA efforts shine spotlight on need to recycle bulbs

San Antonio Business Journal, March 20, 2009

Earlier this year, Billy Padgett shipped more than more than 1,000 used compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) taken from two Sonterra Boulevard buildings — Concord Park and the Terrace at Concord Park — to a recycler.

Now, Padgett, vice president of property management for Concord Property Corp., is doing his part to help other facility managers think green in his role as co-chair of San Antonio Building Owners and Managers Association’s Green Committee.

“We’re educating building management,” he says. Green practices “make (tenants) happier and in the long run, it’s tenant retention.”

One of the first projects Padgett and his BOMA committee members have taken on involves office equipment, supplies, and 4-foot CFLs, which are standard in commercial buildings. Using Earth Day as an anchor, the group is challenging BOMA members and other property managers to collect recyclables from their tenants. Those who collect the most will be awarded prizes at an April 29 luncheon. Although Earth Day is April 22, the group’s drive for computers and CFLs lasts until April 9 and gently used supplies will be collected through the last week of March.

For Padgett, teaching people about the harmful effects of CFLs on the environment is all part of the reason he co-founded BOMA’s Green Committee last year. At Concord Property, he says, the company uses very-low mercury-containing CFLs in the buildings under management, but all CFLs contain mercury, a heavy metal.

While some states have banned all CFLs from muncipal landfills, Texas law has a loophole.

“State law says that you cannot dump Hazardous Waste Lamps and Mercury Containing Equipment into municipal solid waste landfills. However (the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) does have an exemption for ‘small quantity generators,’” Padgett explains. “Legally, we could probably all throw away all the light bulbs we wanted to, but after becoming aware of the potential harmful effects of large scale disposal, we have a responsibility to do the right thing. That’s why we have taken the proactive stance and recycle. We want to do the right thing before we are ordered to do so by any number of various government agencies.”

Efficient, yet harmful

In recent years, CFL manufacturers have worked to reduce the amount of mercury contained in CFLs. The smaller the tube, typically the less mercury.

Still, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are still many light bulbs that contain mercury, including streetlamps, parking lot lighting, and industrial lights. According to the EPA, today’s mercury-containing bulbs hold about 1/100th of the amount of mercury found in a fever thermometer. The mercury is not harmful in its contained state, only when it is released into the environment, such as a broken lightbulb in a landfill.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 670 million mercury containing bulbs are thrown away each year — the most of which end up in landfills.

However, since CFLs are more efficient and last longer than traditional incandesent bulbs, using them results in energy savings. Because coal burning power plants release mercury, CFLs result in a net benefit to the atmosphere, according to the EPA.

Padgett says that while many building managers understand the importance of recycling CFLs, there are some that don’t. In addition, he hopes the campaign will reach the general public, informing people of the need to recycle CFLs, which are now more prominent in the residential markets as well.

So far, he’s collected 114 bulbs in this recent campaign. While it typically costs his company $80 to send 144 to a recycler, BOMA’s Green Committee members organizing the Earth Day promotion worked with another BOMA member, Facility Building Solutions, to recycle 36 in a smaller box for $11.

More coming

Padgett says four of his committee members formed an Earth Day Sub Committee to spearhead this green initiative, organizing partnerships and obtaining prizes.

He expects this is just the first of the Green Committee’s initiatives to encourage “green” thinking. At Concord Park, where he offices, his firm is conducting a promotion to encourage tenants to turn off power strips when they leave in an effort to save money. Although the tenants pay for their own power, he says, it saves them money and they appreciate it.

“We don’t want to smother them in (green efforts), but we want them to get excited,” he says. “It’s good business practice.”