CFLs: Good and Bad for the Environment

The irony of the minor energy savings of compact fluorescent (Gore)bulbs: they’re far more hazardous to the environment, en masse, than standard incandescent bulbs. See this MSNBC story (I know, I typically don’t put much stock in MSNBC, either):

When fluorescent bulbs first hit store shelves several years ago, consumers complained about the loud noise they made, their harsh light, their bluish color, their clunky shape and the long time it took for them to warm up.

Since then, the bulbs — known as CFLs — have been revamped, and strict government guidelines have alleviated most of those problems. But while the bulbs are extremely energy-efficient, one problem hasn’t gone away: All CFLs contain mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause kidney and brain damage.

Now I use CFLs in a few lights in my home; typically lights that are left on for long periods of time (security, safety, etc). And I realize the danger they pose if broken. These are not your parent’s light bulbs that, if they broke, could be easily swept up, thrown away, and in the event the broken bulb’s base was stuck in socket, be retrieved with a sliced potato (yeah, that’s old school now).

badCFLNow, like everything else these days, it’s more complicated. Toward the end of the linked article are the suggested 15 freaking steps you should take if it breaks in your average bedroom.

I’ll leave the judgement to you, dear reader. Is it worth it?

Maybe the Prospect, Maine woman who was quoted $2,000 for a proper CFL clean-up was a mistake, but are the REAL contaminate risks worth the money you save? After all, it’s for The Environment(tm) (pbuH… heh).

Don’t forget about our now-inexorable march toward government-mandated use of CFLs and other energy-efficient light sources. Ten months ago, congress was debating the issue. Phillips VP at the time said:

“It’s the right thing to do,” says Randall B. Moorhead, vice president for the North American affiliate of Royal Phillips Electronics NV of the Netherlands. “But we’re also hoping we’ll make some money. It’s not entirely altruistic.


And, of course, as of December 19, 2007, it’s now law.  The phase-out of incandescent light is to begin with the 100-watt bulb in 2012 and end in 2014 with the 40-watt.  All light bulbs must use 25 percent to 30 percent less 2014.  And, by 2020, bulbs must be 70 percent more efficient than they are today.

What ever happened to just turning off all non-essential lighting like we used to do?

Interestingly, not all incandescents are going away.  Read the Energy Act… exceptions are made for bulbs that CFLs simply cannot mimic.

Personally, I’m all for LEDs. They are more expensive than even CFLs, but their price continues to drop as technolgoy improves. They are far less toxic than CFLs are, as well.


One thought on “CFLs: Good and Bad for the Environment

  1. Um, hey guys, nobody told me I was trading in my admittedly energy-wasting bulb for something that has more disposal instructions than a nuclear reactor.

    I should have known something was up when Walmart started pushing them– they’re probably made with the toxins left over after the Chinese finish making our kids’ toys.

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