We have been pushing the use of Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs), even though they contain tiny amounts of mercury. CFLs still win the anti-pollution/anti-energy waste war because:
- Much less mercury is generated at the coal-burning power plant level to generate the electricity to light the bulbs: CFLs 2.4 milligrams vs. incandescent 10 milligrams (New York Times 1/13/07, p. A2)
- The CFLs are just so much more energy-efficient than incandescents, using 2/3 less energy, lasting 10 times longer, and generating 70% less heat, according to the EPA
- Though a tiny amount of mercury is sealed into CFLs and is essential to their function, if disposed of properly, danger can be avoided.
The EPA has been lobbying retailers who sell the bulbs to provide easier ways to recycle them, according to this NPR interview:
"The head of the Environmental Protection Agency program concedes that not enough has been done to urge people to recycle CFL bulbs....'I share your frustration that there isn't a national infrastructure for the proper recycling of this product,' says Wendy Reed, who manages EPA's Energy Star program. That programs gives the compact bulbs its 'energy star' seal of approval.
She says that even though fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, using them contributes less mercury to the environment than using regular incandescent bulbs. That's because they use less electricity — and coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of mercury emissions in the air.
'The compact fluorescent light bulb is a product people can use to positively influence the environment to… prevent mercury emissions as well as greenhouse gas emissions. And it's something that we can do now — and it's extremely important that we do do it,' Reed says. 'And the positive message is, if you recycle them, if you dispose of them properly, then they're doing a world of good.'Reed says the agency has been urging stores that sell the bulbs to help recycle them.
'EPA is actively engaged with trying to find a solution that works for these retailers around recycling the product, because it's really, really important,' Reed says."