The king of all cheap, environmentally conscious things that everyone can do; the compact fluorescent light bulb. These little gizmos generally save 30 bucks in energy over the life of the bulb and save about 2,000 times their own weight in greenhouse gases. In addition they produce 75% less heat than incandescent bulbs; a major concern for those of us in warmer climates.
If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.
On the downside, each of these blubs contains a small amount of mercury. As their popularity increases this is turning into a real concern for landfills. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association released this statement in March of 2007:
“Under the voluntary commitment, effective April 15, 2007, NEMA members will cap the total mercury content in CFLs of less than 25 watts at 5 milligrams (mg) per unit. The total mercury content of CFLs that use 25 to 40 watts of electricity will be capped at 6 mg per unit. NEMA is launching a website, http://www.cfl-mercury.org/, where CFL manufacturers conforming to the voluntary commitment on mercury will be listed.”
According to the EPA, once the compact fluorescent reaches the end of its lifespan you are encouraged to recycle it. Earth911.org is the perfect resource for finding out where you need to take these, and other hazardous materials.
In addition, care must be taken when cleaning up after a broken compact fluorescent bulb. The EPA recommends that you:
1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
2. Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealed plastic bag.
Use disposable rubber gloves, if available (i.e., do not use bare hands). Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag.
Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
3. Place all cleanup materials in a second sealed plastic bag.
Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag and put it in the outdoor trash container or in another outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal.
Note: some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a local recycling center.
Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.
4. If a fluorescent bulb breaks on a rug or carpet:
First, remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner, following the steps above. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.
If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.
Please note: were not talking about love canal here. The amount of mercury in one of these is about enough to cover the tip of a ball point pen. For all the good they do the environment, the risks and negative impacts are minimal.
There are a lot of things that we should be doing to improve the environment that are just flat out of the reach of most of the population. But this is one thing everyone can do. When a bulb burns out, replace it with a compact fluorescent. It’s that simple, it will save you money, and it’s the right the right thing to do.