June Green Tip

Most of us by now have replaced our incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs.)  LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are a better option, but until the prices become more affordable most of us will be using CFLs. A frequently-asked question is, “How can CFLs be ‘environmentally friendly’ if they contain mercury?”  Well, they do, in fact, use a small amount of mercury – about five milligrams – to generate light.  But this pales in comparison with the amount produced by the largest source of U.S. mercury emis­sions: the coal-burning power plants that produce 52 percent of our nation’s power.  The typical coal-powered plant emits 13.6 milligrams of mercury to power one incandescent bulb, but only 3.3 mg for a CFL.  The reduction in mercury emissions achieved by burning less coal exceeds the five milligrams of mercury in­side a CFL. And unlike coal-fired power plants, which emit mercury directly into the atmosphere (where it most affects our health,) the mercury in CFLs can be contained as long as you dispose of them properly. 

All fluorescent bulbs are considered hazardous waste and should be handled according to local regula­tions. You can take them to your town’s hazardous-waste collection or take them to any Home Depot.   (Their collection box is typically somewhere near the customer service desk — just ask.)  If you should break a CFL there are steps you should take to protect yourself.  Even though it is a small amount of mercury you do not want unnecessary exposure. Don’t vacuum it.  Using disposable gloves wipe it up with a damp paper towel and put everything in a zip-lock. Dispose as hazardous waste, not regular trash. You will find more de­tailed cleanup instructions at http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html