Compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs have been legislatively forced down our throats with the promise of energy efficiency and cost savings. As often happens, when reality bumps into theory and "green" intentions, the results are less than satisfying.
These unattractive curly light bulbs were sold to us as being 75% more energy efficient than the incandescent bulbs we have used for years. They were supposed to last 7 years or more, ergo our cost savings. They were also touted as being better for the environment helping to reduce greenhouse gases. All would be right with the world, sarcasm intended.
In an economy where gas costs $4 a gallon or more, a CFL bulb that costs $8 to $12 is a luxury many cannot afford. We reached the absurd with Phillips recent announcement of its $60 light bulb designed to last 20 years.
As far as CFL longevity goes, that depends on the number of times one turns the light on and off! The Electric Power Research Institute reports that some manufacturers now list the recommended average number of times CFL bulbs can be switched on and off along with a recommended number of operating hours.
Since the CFL introduction into the marketplace and into our lives the following facts have surfaced:
- CFL bulbs contain approximately five milligrams of mercury an element long known to be toxic to people and the environment. When CFLs break they release mercury vapor that can be inhaled and which is particularly dangerous to pregnant women and children.
- CFL bulbs, many of which are manufactured in China, break, split and are known to cause fires. The list of fires is extensive and growing across the country.
- SustainableBusiness.com reports that "only about 2% of consumers and one-third of businesses recycle compact fluorescent light bulbs."
- The Association of Lighting & Mercury Recyclers report that discarded CFLs are contributing to the release of roughly 4 tons of mercury into the environment each year.
According to About.com's Home Repair, improperly disposed of CFLs represent a looming environmental problem of epic proportions. In 2007 almost 400 million CFLs were purchased in the USA, 98% or 320 million CFLs were improperly disposed of and placed in landfills. Five years later the numbers continue to climb with no end in sight.
So how does one properly dispose of a broken CFL? Carefully, very carefully; never forget that CFL breakage is toxic.
The EPA has detailed instructions for proper disposal which include cleanup instructions not to vacuum or sweep up CFL debris, immediately getting children out of the room where the breakage occurred, and opening a window and airing the room for 15 minutes or more.
Home Depot, Lowe's, and IKEA all have programs where you can bring your CFLs for recycling. Cobb County also recommends South East Recycling Tech., Inc. with a location in Kennesaw, Georgia for recycling larger quantities of CFL bulbs.