Tell Walmart: Take Back the Mercury!

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has got a lot of cleaning up to do.

Recently, Walmart has been pushing a wide range of ‘green’ initiatives. They’ve been focusing on the environment very big, very public way.

One of their biggest initiatives is their effort to sell 100 Million Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs — one for each of their estimated 100 million customers.

This is wonderful. If they meet this target, they will be pretty directly responsible for freeing up enough energy to provide power for 450,000 single family homes. We applaud them for this effort!

But there’s a catch, and it’s an important one. Every one of these 100 Million bulbs contains Mercury — a chemical poison that means the bulbs aren’t allowed to be thrown out in household trash. Instead, they need to be recycled using special procedures to ensure that Mercury stays out of landfills across America and around the world.

If Walmart is going to sell these bulbs, they should provide a way for their customers to recycle them. Putting brochures in their stores isn’t enough — they should provide some convenient, direct way for customers to recycle the bulbs. Otherwise, these bulbs will end up in local landfills where they could build up over time and require local communities to pay for clean up costs later. And the clean up costs would be huge.

About Walmart

As one of the biggest and most powerful corporations in the world, they literally make almost $1 Billion in profit each month. They exert a control over the manufacturing and retail industries unlike any other corporation.

From Wikipedia:

It is the largest private employer in the world and world’s fourth largest utility or commercial employer, only trailing the People’s Liberation Army of China, the National Health Service of the United Kingdom and the Indian Railways.

They’ve also been the target of some dramatic criticism recently. The recent movie The High Cost of Low Prices chronicled in detail many of the company’s worst abuses.

For example, here’s some information from a recent article in the San Francisco Bay Guardian:

Five of the 10 richest people in the country are from the founding Walton family. But to help the company offer its proclaimed “Every Day Low Prices,” workers are paid an average of $17,530 a year, nearly $2,000 below the poverty level of a family of four. Almost half of the children of those associates are uninsured or on Medicaid.

Walmart has been doing some good things for the environment recently, and they deserve credit for that. Their 100 Million CFL bulb effort has gotten them a lot of press, including this interview on NPR, this article in Fast Company.

Is it too expensive?

Of course, the reason they don’t provide recycling already is that it costs too much. It will reduce profits.

But according to Wikipedia, they earn almost $1 Billion in profit each month. Clearly, they won’t lose money if provide a way for customers to recycle bulbs.

Other companies are helping consumers recycle products

Also, other companies provide similar services. IKEA, for example, provides recycling of CFL bulbs in each of their stores. Why doesn’t Walmart?

Sony, Dell, Apple and HP are all unveiling recycling programs to allow customers to recycle products they buy from them. Why doesn’t Walmart?

Walmart even held a recycling day in 5 US States and accepted CFL bulbs from customers for recycling. It was a single day, 8-hour event, but they took in a lot of bulbs.

Pressure from customers will be key in determining when they role it out permanently. They’ve announced no plans to do so as of yet. But, with pressure from us, I’m certain they will.

What should you do?

So what should you do?

Well, to begin with the first thing is to contact Walmart and tell them to Take Back the Mercury! If Walmart wants to sell 100 Million CFL bulbs they should arrange in-store recycling for the bulbs. It’s that simple.

Right now, the best contact information I have is this contact page on Walmart’s corporate site. For e-mail, this form is the best I can find.

I’d prefer more direct contact information — preferably to Andy Ruben, Vice President of Corporate Strategy/Sustainability for Walmart. If you have better contact information please leave it in the comments here and I’ll add it to this page. For now, here’s the contact info from their corporate contact page:

Contact Walmart:

By e-mail
To contact us by e-mail, fill out our online feedback form.
Submit feedback for your local Wal-Mart
Submit feedback for our corporate headquarters

Via mail
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Bentonville, Arkansas 72716-8611.

By phone
If you’re a customer, call 1-800-WAL-MART (1-800-925-6278).

If you’re an investor or analyst, call 479-273-8446.
If you’re a journalist, call 1-800-331-0085.

25 thoughts on “Tell Walmart: Take Back the Mercury!

  1. Pingback: New Study: 87% of Americans "seriously concerned about the environment"

  2. i can’t back up these claims
    http://egowumpus.livejournal.com/242388.html

    Your watch has ten times the mercury in it that a CFL does. Your filling – as in your piece of dental work – has a hundred times more mercury in it than a CFL does. The same 100x is true of all the thermostats in your house – be it a non-digital thermometer, the thermostat on your ac, your oven, your refridgerator, etc.

    but i’m curious if we aren’t over-selling this mercury in CFL’s thing.

  3. The problem is the mercury being leaked at the landfills, seeping into the ground, ultimately the water…

    I was very impressed that HP includes recycling envelopes with their new cartridges. Having recently finished my thesis I, sadly, required ink for drafts, but not only do you not have to pay to send the cartridge back to HP for recycling — just pop into the postage paid envelope, and then into a mailbox — if you somehow require more, you just log on to their website and request additional envelopes for free.

    The only issue is, I don’t know exactly what they are doing with the empty cartridges when they’re sent back, but this is definitely a leap in the right direction.

  4. What about the responsibility of the consumers? It seems in the 21st century we have forgotten the maxim of Caveat Emptor.

    The reality behind this ploy is simple: Wal-Mart sees that a profit can be made by marketing so-called “Green” products to environmentally-conscious consumers. They are capitalizing on the effort of environmentalists to raise people’s awareness of the potentially negative impacts we make on the environment through our day-to-day actions.

    This is not about helping the environment, it’s about driving up Wal-Mart share prices higher so that the people who have sacrificed their life energy and their placed their money on Wal-Mart have something to show for it at the end.

    I suppose some people may read that in an extremely negative, almost dogmatic light (i.e. something like “that big bad corporation Wal-Mart is profiteering again and screwing people over”).

    But really, these people simply know what is in their own interests a lot better than the rest of us; we on the other hand simply assume that every individual has a duty to the welfare of everyone else. However this is only an ideal, it is not a reality. Time and time again, it is shown that self-interest consistently trumps collective well-being in human relations.

    While it is perfectly possible for someone to sacrifice himself or herself for the good of the whole, when it does happen there is no net positive result for the one who commits such a sacrifice. Those that commit sacrifices are never given rewards that allow them to prosper more, and always the net result if they had acted in their own self-interest would be more than if they made a sacrifice.

    Hence, over time, arises: Wal-Mart.

  5. Okay, I just skimmed through the article headings on your website and they are all strictly about environmentalism.
    .
    I thought this site was about “Exploring the New Values of the 21st Century Citizen”?
    .
    Am I to assume the only values of the 21st Century Citizen are values pertaining to sustainable and harmonious living within the earth’s biosphere?
    .
    What about the our social values, family values, our work values, national values, or individual values? The 21st Century doesn’t allow room for those??
    .
    I know it’s just a catchphrase but I thought I was about to find a website that was much more broad and all-encompassing than the narrow tunnel-vision of environmentalism.

  6. Ah, I see my comment is still awaiting moderation. :)

    Well, I understand if you’d rather not approve something that sort of picks on Wal-Mart (albeit in a hilarious way). I agree, Wal-Mart does deserve credit for the good stuff they do. So, delete my comments (or not) with my blessing. :)

    In any case, I hope you enjoyed the videos. :)

    Great blog, I enjoy it. :)

  7. Sorry I didn’t approve the comment right away – it had two links in it to youtube, but didn’t say anything about why it was relevant to the conversation. I honestly thought it was spam!

    And to the anonymous commenter who asked about having to add periods — sorry, that’s how WordPress does it! I don’t think I can change it!

    And to jhimm and everyone else — thanks for the insightful comments once again! I read everything very carefully and take all feedback to heart. You’ll see your concerns reflected in future posts.

    Thanks again!

  8. Is Walmart collapsing?
    Is Walmart collapsing?

    Ethical and ecological corporate strategies for sustainability in the 21st century adhere that this classic marketing trauma could easily have contributed a positive secret to the success of green education for US citizens to opt in.

    For debate the focus of action should have been based on Walmart giving one CFL bulb to each of their estimated 100M customers.

    Whatever your budget preference, you will have unlimited choices to find another shop for eco-action activity and lifestyle. We found a safer shop to associate with.

    For eco-action we found a safer shop to associate with. Tell Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Sph!

  9. Quote:
    “Sorry I didn’t approve the comment right away – it had two links in it to youtube, but didn’t say anything about why it was relevant to the conversation. I honestly thought it was spam!”

    That’s OK. Sorry for writing ambiguously. :-)

    Apollia

  10. Pingback: Conley’s World » Blog Archive » We Need an Easy Way to Recycle CFL

  11. Here is a quick, 2-minute draft I wrote up, feel free to add to it, or change it and leave it here or at my blog, http://conley.toejammer.net/blog/?p=150

    Hi, I am concerned about the number of CFL bulbs being sold without an accessible way to safely dispose of them. Because they contain mercury and because many people are not aware of the dangers involved, CFL bulbs carelessly thrown into public landfills could become a costly hazard that will be expensive to clean up later. If you really want to protect the environment, with an environmentally friendly, energy-saving product, please provide an in store way to safely dispose of them.

    Thanks,
    ~Conley

  12. this isn’t just about self-interest vs. collective well-being.
    the continued existence of “society” as a concept
    for thousands of years
    disproves your claim that self-interest always trumps.
    the truth that too many people miss
    is that these concepts are not mutually exclusive.
    in the face of impending global climate change
    self-interest intersects with collective well-being.
    i don’t want to live on a planet distorted by pollution.
    society as a whole is growing to see things the same way.
    i am unable to prevent global climate shift on my own.
    society as a whole can prevent global climate shift.
    our interests converge for a time.

    Wal-Mart’s earing of a profit on “green” light bulbs
    does not in some way distort, taint or cancel out the simple fact
    that this could lead to more and more people
    using far more efficient light bulbs than they used to use.

    the CFL mercury problem
    is no different form the Toyota Prius
    Giant Toxic Battery problem
    that everyone is ignoring
    in their effort to join The Smug.

    while a CFL uses less electricity than older bulbs,
    it comes with a consequence – mercury.
    but this isn’t a reason to avoid CFL!
    at least we are aware of this trade off -at the beginning-
    instead of 100 years from now
    when it is too late to prevent a pollution catastrophe.
    it simply means we need to be deliberate
    about the way in which we consume CFL,
    but isn’t environmental activism
    at its core
    about more deliberate consumerism in general anyway?

    so this should be no problem whatsoever.

    if Wal-Mart discovers that offering CFL recycling
    will -also- earn them more money,
    they will offer it.
    if they don’t come to that conclusion,
    the fault lies with consumers
    for not presenting a compelling case to Wal-Mart.

    Whole Foods doesn’t sell organic, fair trade coffee
    because they love indigenous peoples
    and want them to be middle class and safe.
    they sell organic, fair trade coffee
    because affluent liberals will pay $15 a pound for it.

    but that doesn’t taint organic, fair trade coffee’s value.

    baby, bath water, people.

  13. I also called the sustainable VP from Home Depot. I am still waiting for a return phone call… The only person I spoke to was a VP at Lowes who actually called me back. He told me that liability seems to be a huge issue for these companies because of the hazardous material contained in the CFLs. (clean-up issues, etc)

    Personally, I agree with you. I think it is cost. Would consumers still buy CFLs if there was an additional $1 attached for recycling? Would offering a small discount on a new bulb to bring in your old bulb be a good reason for Walmart to do this under the adage that people would also buy something else?

    Even better, how about making it easier for people to recycle these bulbs locally like you recycle your paper and glass products. Maybe I am just dreaming…

    I don’t know but I think that something has to be done. Thanks for bring in up this issues again. anna http://www.green-talk.com

  14. Sorry it looks like the first half of my post disappeared! So, I am reprinting it. Sorry!

    Kudos on your post. I wrote a similar post on my website, Green Talk, after I attended Lightfair 2007 in NYC. At the show there were a lot of companies marketing their fluorescent bulbs and CFLs. Some had a lower mercury content than others.. (By the way they have lead in them too.) It became apparent to me that nothing was being done to push the recycling of the CFLs as well as commercial fluorescent bulbs.

    I did try and call Alan Ruben (twice) and was switched back to his sustainable press coordinated. One time I talked to someone in his department. Basically I was fed the corporate lingo on they are looking into it. Actually, they did a 5 state bulb collection. What I found out is they collected more commercial bulbs than CFLs. It is a start.

    I also called the sustainable VP from Home Depot. I am still waiting for a return phone call… The only person I spoke to was a VP at Lowes who actually called me back. Liability seems to be a huge issue because of the hazardous material contained in the CFLs.

    Personally, I agree with you. I think it is cost. Would consumers still buy CFLs if there was an additional $1 attached for recycling? Would offering a small discount on a new bulb to bring in your old bulb be a good reason for Walmart to do this under the adage that people would also buy something else?

    Even better, how about making it easier for people to recycle these bulbs locally like you recycle your paper and glass products. Maybe I am just dreaming…

    I don’t know but I think that something has to be done. anna http://www.green-talk.com

  15. I can honestly say that CFLs are one of the most over hyped products I have seen in recent years.
    In our household we made the move to CFLs and have found that they provide a poor quality of light, requiring upsizing to achieve the level of light that was produced by the incandescent bulbs that were removed.
    As for the Wal-Mart issue; Just because they are successful they shouldn’t be required to accept the collectivist thinking that their profits belong to anyone other than the shareholders. If Wal-Mart can make money from recycling CFLs, I imagine they will do so. If not a Green organization can step forward and develop a means of disposal.

  16. Making the companies take them back is kindof dumb. Honestly, we need to find a common recycling method in the existing pickup. Just because a company sells someone’s product, does not mean they are responsible for it indefinetly, this sense of entitlement is silly.

    If anything we should push for the advancement of led lighting technology, as it is a much better solution.

  17. the address to write to ceo, walmart is nothing but a joke. i wrote 3 times about a ongoing problem and all 3 times a got the same email back, but with a differant name signed!

  18. THE EPA’S OFFICIAL REPORT ON THESE COMPACT FLUORESCENT BULBS IS THAT THEY ARE STILL SAFER – OVERALL – THAN THE OLD INCANDESCENT BULBS.

    However, to be sure, I checked-out some very reputable independent testing labs reports. Here are some sites to help you handle the very tiney, teeny-weenie, itsy-bitsy, smaller than the a fine point ball-point pin tip (and to be even less within the next 12 months) bit of mercury:

    http://www.popularmechanics.com/home_journal/home_improvement/4215199.html

    http://energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf

    Hope this helps you to overcome.

    Hey – don’t freak – I broke a thermometer in 1977 – and the mercury went down the bathroom drain!!! AAaaaaaggghhhhh!!!!!
    LOL! Just kidding – really though – it did go down the sink!

  19. Pingback: Recycle: Used CFLs | Earth-Byte.com

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  23. Pingback: CFL’s and Fluorescent Light Bulb’s Wreak Havoc on Landfills | Lightpublic | The latest in Lighting and Interior Design

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