Friday, May 02, 2008

Light Bulb? Incandescent, Please

With news last year that the Federal Government is going to be banning incandescent bulbs by 2014, environmentalist-mined folks from across the nation held hands and rejoiced.

The world will be saved!

The incandescent bulb has been decried as some dirty, wasteful, nasty thing. It even gets political, as some Liberals use it to describe their conservative countrymen: "Republicans are, like, so incandescent..."

So the incandescent bulb is something to be scorned. Reviled, even.

Poor incandescent bulb.

But I still like you! And after reading the latest news about the proper disposal of our new, "energy efficient" compact fluorescent bulbs, I'm learning to love you all over again.

There's this from MSNBC News: "Compact fluorescent light bulbs, long touted by environmentalists as a more efficient and longer-lasting alternative to the incandescent bulbs that have lighted homes for more than a century, are running into resistance from waste industry officials and some environmental scientists, who warn that the bulbs' poisonous innards pose a bigger threat to health and the environment than previously thought."

Yes, it appears that our new-and-improved little bulbs are rather nasty things in their own right. That's because, like all fluorescent bulbs, they have mercury in them, and one must be very, very careful in their disposal. Proponents of the new bulbs downplay the presence of mercury in them, like this article found online: "A power plant emits about 10 mg of mercury to produce the electricity needed to run an incandescent bulb, compared to only 2.4 mg of mercury to run a CF bulb for the same amount of time."

Yes, that's all well and good. But the mercury in a power plant is in a power plant, not surrounding me in my living room.

If you break an incandescent bulb, you just sweep up the tiny shards of glass and toss it in the trash. Not so with the new energy efficient bulbs. Breaking one of those constitutes a environmental hazard. Below is the twelve-step cleanup process recommended by the EPA:

Before Clean-up: Ventilate the Room
1.) Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
2.) Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
3.) Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

A.] Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces
4.) Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
5.) Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
6.) Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the glass jar or plastic bag.
7.) Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

B.] Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug
4.) Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
5.) Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
6.) If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
7.) Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Disposal of Clean-up Materials
8.) Immediately place all cleanup materials outside the building in a trash container or outdoor protected area for the next normal trash.
9.) Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
10.) Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Ventilate the Room During and After Vacuuming
11.) The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window prior to vacuuming.
12.) Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.

Then there is the disposal standard that applies to all energy efficient bulbs, broken or not [from an online article]: "Recycling burned-out CFs is the best option. To find out if there are recycling options near you, call 1-800-CLEAN-UP for an automated hotline or visit (At the top of the home page, enter your zip code and press "go." Click on the "Household Hazardous Waste" link, then the "fluorescent bulbs" link. This page will identify the nearest mercury recycling or disposal facilities near you. If the page contains no specific information on CFs, go back and click on the link for "Mercury Containing Items.")

"Or contact your local government agency in charge of household hazard waste (start with your sanitation department) to see if recycling is an option in your area."

Man, I just want to toss out my used up bulbs, not make an ordeal out of it. Which is exactly what most folks are going to end up doing, anyway. So after 2014 - indeed, starting nowadays - our landfills are going to be loading up with improperly discarded compact fluorescent bulbs.

Just like the ones that will be sitting in my trash cans.

* *

Labels: , , ,


At 12:52 PM, Blogger Johnny 5 said...

As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am less enthusiastic than most about compact fluorescent bulbs. This is due to the fact that the ones currently available contain significant amounts of mercury. If one of these bulbs should break inside of a person’s home, it could cause a challenging disposal situation. It is my belief that the technology should progress to a point at which the mercury levels are low or nonexistent before people changeover their entire homes. Another consideration is that as these bulbs burn out, they will most likely be thrown away as though they are normal rubbish and landfills will have incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil as a result.

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Krissy said...

Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

At 4:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Umm, actually, that power plant mercury is not sitting safely in the plant. It is spewed into the air, where it is dangerous, and ends up in the water supply. This is a lot more dangerous than having it inside the bulb. Meanwhile, you would have to break 100 CFLs all in one place to equal one of those mercury thermometers we used to put in our mouths. BTW, what about all the fluorescent bulbs in schools, stores, offices, and factories? They have mercury, too, and have had it for years. Why is no one concerned about that?

At 12:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Krissy: 5 mg of mercury is enough to poison 2500 liters of water (660 gallons), it's not at all a trivial amount of mercury.


Post a Comment

<< Home