Shining a Light on CFLs

by Matthew Freeman

December 31, 2008

The Environmental Working Group is out with a new guide to Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs), and they warn that not all CFLs are environmentally equal.

 

CFLs offer huge energy-consumption and length-of-use advantages over traditional incandescent bulbs, but they introduce one noteworthy environmental problem: each CFL has a tiny amount of mercury inside the glass. It’s not much – about what would fit on the tip of ballpoint pen – but if the bulb breaks, the mercury can be dangerous. If one breaks, you’re supposed to get children, pregnant women and pets out of the room, open the windows, turn off air conditioning or heating, put on rubber gloves and a mask, and carefully put the pieces into a sealed jar. (Read cleanup instructions from EWG here, and from EPA here (pdf)).

 

Disturbing as that description is, CFLs still pose less of a mercury problem than incandescent bulbs, EWG and EPA say, because the coal-fired power plants that supply about half of the nation’s electricity send even more mercury up the smokestack. Since CFLs use considerably less energy than incandescents, their tiny onboard mercury payload is less hazardous to the environment.

 

Bulbs aren’t all that likely to break in the home, particularly because you’re not likely to handle them for years at a time. But once in the trash stream, all bets are off. They can get broken in trash cans, on trash trucks or in landfills. That’s why an increasing number of states and communities are requiring that the bulbs be recycled, although not as part of curbside recycling. Some retailers will help with that. IKEA and Home Depot say their stores will take CFLs whenever they’re open, and Wal-Mart has special CFL recycling events at their stores. (An interesting fact emerges here: Home Depot says that 75 percent of American homes are within 10 miles of one of their stores.)

 

EWG’s new guide points out that the Bush Administration recently moved back the December 2008 effective date for new regulations that require lower mercury content in CFLs. (The Bush Administration relaxing environmental standards on its way out the door? What were the odds?) But EWG lists seven CFLs with the smallest mercury payload, as well as dozens of bulbs now carrying the Energy Star logo that do not meet the new mercury standards, now slated to go into effect on July 1, 2009.

Be the first to comment on this entry.
We ask for your email address so that we may follow up with you, ask you to clarify your comment in some way, or perhaps alert you to someone else's response. Only the name you supply and your comment will be displayed on the site to the public. Our blog is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and we hope to foster intelligent, interesting and respectful discussion. We do not apply an ideological screen, however, we reserve the right to remove blog posts we deem inappropriate for any reason, but particularly for language that we deem to be in the nature of a personal attack or otherwise offensive. If we remove a comment you've posted, and you want to know why, ask us (info@progressivereform.org) and we will tell you. If you see a post you regard as offensive, please let us know.

Also from Matthew Freeman

Media relations consultant Matthew Freeman helps coordinate CPR's media outreach efforts and manage its online communications. His media relations experience in Washington spans more than 30 years, and his client list includes a range of organizations active on the environment, education, civil rights and liberties, health care, progressive organizing in the interfaith community, and more.

A Final 2017 Dose of Op-Eds

Freeman | Dec 28, 2017 | Regulatory Policy

Steinzor: Trump's reform won't stop mass incarceration

Freeman | Dec 21, 2017 | Good Government

Trump's Newspeak

Freeman | Dec 19, 2017 | Good Government

An Antidote to Greed

Freeman | Nov 28, 2017 | Good Government

CPR's Latest Op-Eds Take on the Assault on Our Safeguards

Freeman | Oct 16, 2017 | Regulatory Policy

The Center for Progressive Reform

455 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150-513
Washington, DC 20001
info@progressivereform.org
202.747.0698

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2015