CFL Bulbs: Greener than most, but not green enough
I’ve embraced the compact fluorescent light bulb revolution wholeheartedly. I preach their money-saving abilities and cite statistics about energy. I comment on brands and varieties (daylight bulbs remain my favorite). I even point to them as environmentally friendly options since the use of CFL bulbs practically guarantees less light bulbs kicking around the local landfill. But, with the growing use of CFL bulbs, a little problem with that claim that a purchase of a CFL bulb is support for environmentalism. You see, when more CFL bulbs are used, more are also thrown away. And CFL bulbs contain mercury.
Mercury is one of those substances that worry health experts. Pregnant women are supposed to avoid exposure. Dentists prefer to replace mercury fillings. Heck, we’re even supposed to limit our intake of tuna fish because of concerns about the mercury levels in the fish.
Now, all is not lost. CFL bulbs are still a better option than most of their counterparts — as long as users take a little care with disposal. Essentially, environmental experts, such as Brad Heavner, the state director of Environment Maryland, recommend recycling your CFL bulbs, rather than just throwing them away. Since mercury is classified as hazardous waste, recycling the bulbs guarantees that said waste doesn’t get dumped somewhere that they could harm water supplies and other parts of the environment.
The problem? Very few recycling programs actually accept CFL bulbs. Heavner said in an interview with the Baltimore Sun: “I have a bucket of bulbs in my basement, and they’re going to stay there until they do make it easier.” That’s right — even the environmental expert doesn’t have access to an easy way to recycle his CFL bulbs. At this point, only nine states in the U.S. have reasonable CFL recycling programs. Activists, such as Heavner, are working on the rest.
In the meantime, though, if you don’t have easy access to a CFL recycling program, you have fairly limited options. You can use Heavner’s bucket-in-the-basement strategy, or go ahead and throw out your bulbs. Some stores will also take used CFL bulbs, including all Ikea stores and some Ace Hardware and Tru-Value Hardware stores. If you don’t have access to such stores, consider stopping by the manager’s office at the store where you buy your bulbs. Tell them you’re interested in a recycling program — many companies seem to just be waiting to hear about customer interest.
A side note: If you break a CFL bulb in your home, the EPA recommends the following: clear everyone (both humans and pets) from the room, ventilate the area by opening windows, and shut off the furnace. You can then commence clean up procedures. These precautions are merely that: you don’t need a hazmat suit to clean up a broken light bulb.