Saving the planet by switching to fluorescent lights

Switching from incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bulbs can save energy, but there other issues?

According to a recent article from Michigan State University Extension, switching from incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bulbs can save energy, but there other issues?

The additional environmental complications with fluorescent bulbs (including CFLs) is that they contain small amounts of mercury and disposal of mercury falls under the EPA’s hazardous waste disposal regulations that require most businesses to utilize certified hazardous waste disposal companies or hazardous waste recycling facilities.  While very small businesses and individual households can dispose of their old bulbs by sending them to the landfill, the mercury is still hazardous. The small amount of mercury in a fluorescent bulb can vaporize if the bulb is broken or be a heavy metal contaminant in the landfill when not disposed of properly.

Because of the release of mercury vapor, the EPA recommends that if you break a fluorescent bulb that you should

  • Evacuate the room of people and pets.
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air conditioning system and leave it off for several hours.
  • Air out the room for five to ten minutes.
  • Then take special precautions about the cleanup and deposit the broken bulb and pieces into a sealed jar or plastic bag.
  • Then properly dispose of the sealed container; some localities require that this waste be taken to a recycling center for proper disposal.
  • If you have concerns about your health resulting from the breakage of the bulb, EPA recommends contacting your local poison control center.

This has implications for you as well as for the environment when those bulbs are disposed of in landfills.  While switching from incandescent bulb to fluorescent bulbs may save energy, they are not necessarily better for the environment. In this case, using less energy may require subjecting yourself and the environment with increased hazardous heavy metals. Tradeoffs are everywhere!

Ecosystems are very complex and saving the planet is rarely simple!

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