FAQ: Are CFLs Safe for the Environment? How Should I Dispose of Them?

Lighting up the way

Commonly known as CFLs, compact fluorescent lightbulbs are the energy saving bulbs that are replacing traditional incandescent, halogen, and other lights around many homes and apartments. They use between 60 and 80% less energy than their traditional counterparts, making them increasingly popular among stores, wallets, and daily conversations. While using a fraction of the energy, CFLs also have a longer life and thus save money over the long run. For example, CFLs typically last between 6,000 and 15,000 hours, compared to 1,000 hours for incandescent bulbs. Most will require an upfront investment, but they are becoming less expensive as they become more mainstream and will save the user upwards of $30 over each bulb's life. Additionally, the efficiency of each bulb saves 2,000 times its own weight in greenhouse gas emissions. If you want to cut your electric bill and your carbon footprint, seriously consider replacing your incandescent bulbs with CFLs, starting with your most frequently used lights. You may really appreciate the change when you get your next electric bill.

The main drawback to CFLs is their disposal--each bulb contains a small amount of mercury that  enables fluorescent lamps to be 75 percent more efficient, but may be dangerous to the environment. When it comes to disposing of CFLs, do no throw them out with your regular garbage. They need to be disposed of in accordance with state and/or local laws, which may require taking them to a local household waste facility, recycler, or the store where they were purchased. For Lakewood residents, you can simply take burned-out CFLs to The Home Depot (on West 117th Street and Berea Road). At each Home Depot store, customers can simply bring in any expired, unbroken CFL bulb and give them to the associate behind the returns desk. The bulbs are then taken by an environmental management company, who coordinates packaging, transportation and recycling to maximize safety and ensure environmental compliance.

If a CFL breaks in your home, there is no need to panic. There are kits that you can purchase to assist with the disposal, but you can also clean up on your own. The EPA recommends airing out the room for 15 minutes (if contents are exposed). If the bulb has shattered, avoid vaccuuming, as this will stir up the contents into the air. Instead, wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes, and place towels in a glass jar or plastic bag, which can be properly disposed of at a local solid waste agency.

This Lakewood Observer "Green Page" was created to build greater awareness around sustainable practices for our community. Our objective is to increase education around sustainable behaviors as well as highlight people and businesses that are already doing great, green things. Please contact us at gogreen@lakewoodobserver.com with any questions, ideas for topics, or names of people or businesses that you feel should be included in our column. Feedback is always welcome as well. 

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Volume 5, Issue 22, Posted 8:47 AM, 11.04.2009