Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Think globally, act locally -- but act how? Green bulb news makes Curmudgeon blue

The U.S. EPA's "Energy Star" website is high on "compact fluorescent light bulbs":
If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.
That's pretty impressive. If you'll follow the link, you'll see that the government boasts that CFLs "use at least 2/3 less energy than standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same amount of light, and last up to 10 times longer" and (near and dear to my heart) "save $30 or more in energy costs over each bulb’s lifetime."

If you've seen a television at all lately, you know major corporations are jumping on the CFL bandwagon: I've seen a Wal-Mart ad for these new bulbs on several programs recently.

I'd been starting to think this might be a good and useful thing to do -- especially in my house where teenagers can turn lights on but seem to find it impossible to turn them off.

This morning, however, I saw this item in Zay N. Smith's Quick Takes column in this morning's Chicago Sun-Times:
News Headline: "Going green . . . a simple light bulb will help."

News Headline: "Lights out for old, inefficient bulbs."

News Headline: "By changing from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescents, you can save money, energy and the world."

If you switch to compact fluorescent bulbs for the good of the environment, you will need to know a few things in case you break one.

Hazardous waste experts recommend:

1. Do not use a vacuum cleaner, as it will spread the fluorescent bulb's mercury neurotoxin into the air and contaminate the machine.

2. Ventilate the area and reduce the room temperature.

3. Collect the material into an airtight container while wearing coveralls, goggles and an air mask.

4. Pat the areas with the sticky side of tape and wipe with a damp cloth, putting these, also, in the airtight container.

5. Call local authorities to see where the container should be taken for safe disposal.

Congratulations on going green!
Is this the incandescent light bulb industry's attempt to maintain market share against a new and profit-threatening innovation? Or is there a real problem?

The EPA Fact Sheet largely confirms the news item -- albeit with an obviously different slant:
Because there is such a small amount of mercury in CFLs, your greatest risk if a bulb breaks is getting cut from glass shards. Research indicates that there is no immediate health risk to you or your family should a bulb break and it’s cleaned up properly. You can minimize any risks by following these proper clean-up and disposal guidelines:
  • Sweep up—don’t vacuum—all of the glass fragments and fine particles.
  • Place broken pieces in a sealed plastic bag and wipe the area with a damp paper towel to pick up any stray shards of glass or fine particles. Put the used towel in the plastic bag as well.
  • If weather permits, open windows to allow the room to ventilate.
Nothing's ever clear cut, is it?

Nor are you supposed to throw CFLs in the garbage when -- after hopefully saving you all this money and energy -- they eventually burn out. This from the EPA Fact Sheet again:
Like paint, batteries, thermostats, and other hazardous household items, CFLs should be disposed of properly. Do not throw CFLs away in your household garbage if better disposal options exist. To find out what to do first check the following website: where you can find disposal options by using your zip code... or by calling 1-877 EARTH911 for local disposal options. Another option is to check directly with your local waste management agency for recycling options and disposal guidelines in your community. Additional information is available at Finally, IKEA stores take back used CFLs, and other retailers are currently exploring take-back programs.
So: If I use CFLs am I being a 'good steward' of the Earth -- or am I just getting in on the ground floor of a new environmental crisis? I'm leaning toward trying them out... depending on the price.... Have any of you used CFLs? What are your observations?


SQT said...

What if you break the darn thing and it gets into the carpet? I can't exactly sweep up the glass shards then can I?

Anonymous said...

Our energy saving light bulbs are very dull in comparison - just two prongs that give the dimmest light and cost four times the price of an ordinary bulb.

may said...

what? we've been using CFL because we find the oridnary light bulb too bright. it was great to find out it is energy saving too. but now, this? okay, let's just go back to the olden days and light candles :(

Anonymous said...

Everything's gonna kill us eventually anyway...
We use the CFL's, and like them, with the exception of the floor lamp in the living room; Chris says the other night coming up the hill on his bike he thought I'd brought the work light up to paint the living room or something because the light was so harsh. We have broken one, (ok, Chris broke one), and not being aware, vacuumed the shards (which went EVERYWHERE). But I flat refuse to replace my Dirt Devil hand vac we used for that chore, and I figure it's like everything have to pick your battles; or in this case, your carcinogens!

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

i have them in the high hats in the kitchen and i don't think they give off all that much light. i also have a few in lamps and again, don't think there is enough light. have not broken one yet. have thrown them in the trash though, didn't know any of this curmy. now what to do? don't know...

smiles, bee

ps: take your vitamin?

Ron said...

Oh, damn. And I just changed a whole bunch of lights in my house. I'm going to stick w/ the CFLs because they appeal to my inner cheapskate.

Hopefully, less toxic versions can be developed in time.

I appreciate you posting this as I least know what I'm getting.


Ralph said...

We're replacing with CFL's only the most used light fixtures in our house. We wouldn't probably do this if the local elec. utility wasn't raising rates 50%...we are basing our moves on purely economic motives (and of course, Economics in the classic sense, is the study of behaviour)...Not for "Green" motives, where's the cost savngs in that?

Mother Jones RN said...

Good grief! We just can't win.


Where fibers meet mud said...

I had quite a few CFL's that did not perform - and they went the way of the trash - so now I am feeling bad that I did the wrong thing doing the right thing.

Besides I have my own hole in the ozone because I am addicted to hair care products :O)

Shelby said...

For some reason (keep in mind I'm thick in school outlines) the term "risk utility test" keeps popping up in my brain...

So, in other words, I'll leave it up to the finder of fact on this one.

I will say, I do not have any of these bubbs.


sari said...

We have started buying CFLs because they last a lot longer. We recycle our bulbs through a special city program.

But I didn't know about the problems if one breaks - we'll have to be extra careful. Which of course means we'll break some, right?

Anonymous said...

Oh Dear - are we damned it we do, damned if we don't. I have a couple in the house and they are ok. They are still very expensive in Australia.

Our government has recently "hinted" at the idea of banning the incandescent bulb in favour of these. Hope the big thinkers have done all their homework.

Anonymous said...

I've used these lights for about 3 years. I lived at another address than now and took my bulbs with me. They still cost about 4x an incandescent to buy, but, if a 14 watt bulb will do the job of a 40 or 60 watt incandescent, then I'm in for the savings!