BLOOMINGTON - You're doing your part for the environment and use the new energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs. They've lasted a long time, but it's time to replace a few. You toss the old ones in the trash.

You've just undone some of your attempts to be environmentally friendly. The new light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury.

Ecology Action Center Director Michelle Covi said the mercury level doesn't warrant not using the bulbs, but ideally they shouldn't go into the landfill.

"An alternative is to take them to a household hazardous waste drive," Covi said.

And that can be done Saturday when the Ecology Action Center, the University of Illinois Extension and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency co-sponsor a free household hazardous waste drive at the Interstate Center.

The Twin Cities have been lucky enough to attract the drives virtually every year, but that requires residents to save all those light bulbs and other household hazardous wastes for about a year.

That could change in the near future. A group of Twin City and McLean County officials think the collection numbers show there's a need for a permanent site. They are making that recommendation in the Integrated Solid Waste Management's five-year plan that will go to the McLean County Board for approval Oct. 16.

"We want to try and take it to a higher level," said Phil Dick, McLean County's director of building and zoning.

Covi said 1,770 households brought hazardous waste items to last year's drive, filling up 331 55-gallon drums. The bulk of that - 84 drums - was pesticides. Adhesive sealers came in second, filling 73 drums.

Normal Public Works Director Mike Hall said there are only five or six permanent household hazardous waste sites in Illinois and none in Central Illinois. Covi said the closest sites are Rockford and Chicago.

The sites are typically open on Saturdays and the cost of running them for a year is about the same as the cost of the one-day drives, she said.

Grants to cover site's costs?

Hall said officials likely will be looking for grants to help pay for part of the site. It also would need approval from the state EPA.

"We would have to have certified people and the facility has to be approved," Hall said.

Dick said the format of the site would be determined by the EPA.

The facility would need room to store collected items until a qualified hauler could pick them up, Hall said.

Covi said some of the items can be used in a fuel blend, some are burned and others recycled.

"The only thing that's taken to the landfill is asbestos," she said. "It's a mineral, so you can bury it."

While officials are looking into getting a permanent site for the hazardous household wastes, Covi is trying to find alternatives for everyday items like the fluorescent lights. Some communities have successfully worked out recycling programs with the businesses that sell the bulbs.

In the meantime, taking them to Saturday's drive is the best alternative. Covi also encourages residents to bring their unwanted medications to the drive.

"Don't flush them," she said. "Our sewage system is not designed to treat prescription drugs. Although they are diluted, they're not gone and they make it into the streams and rivers … they could kill beneficial bacteria."

While there still are some items that can only be recycled during special drives, the Ecology Action Center has been successful finding local recycling options for several other household hazardous waste items including paint, batteries and motor oil. The center also organized electronics recycling in Normal.

Hazardous junk

What: Household hazardous waste collection

When: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Interstate Center, Bloomington

Accepted items include: Oil-based paint, paint thinner, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, unwanted medications, old gasoline, pool chemicals, cleaning products, mercury, household batteries, used motor oil, drain cleaners, lawn chemicals, hobby chemicals, antifreeze, solvents, lead acid batteries, fire extinguishers, aerosol products, fluorescent bulbs, electronics.

For more information: www.ecologyactioncenter.org; www.mcleanextension.org

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