Mercury and CFL Recycling

I'm sure I'll be writing a fair amount about CFLs on this blog, because even though they make so much sense, there still seems to be a fair amount of misconception about them by some in the public.

The biggest drawback to these light bulbs is the small amount of mercury contained in them.  As stated in this handy factsheet created by Energy Star, the average CFL contains 4 milligrams of mercury.

I know you're scratching your head trying to visualize 4 mg.  Remember the old thermometers you had to stick under your tongue when the "hand to the forehead" wasn't enough.  That contained 500 mg (125 CFLs) of Mercury! That's not saying the Mercury in CFL's doesn't matter, it just means that we have to be reasonable with objections.

So, what happens when your CFL finally burns out?  Well, since you have to go buy some more, take it to Home Depot and have them recycle it for you!

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re power factor see comments on re " you shouldnt have lights on long enough for the heat value to be significant" - but often lights are on for hours in a living room etc more <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> re "I’m pretty sure the mercury pollution numbers already take into account the fact that 50% of energy comes from coal" No the EPA diagrams etc commonly used by ban proponents quoted assume 100% coal power use <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> goes extensively into the mercury question - the problem is the use of data several years old unrelated to latest developments. In a nutshell: 1. We know where the ever decreasing coal power stations chimneys are and we can treat their emissions with ever increasing efficiency at lower costs. 2. Compare that with billions of scattered broken lights on dump sites, when we do not know where the broken lights are, and so we can't do anything about them.
Good comments, although I'm not sure I agree with all of them. First, I dont think they are only 2 times more affective. My 14 watt CFL puts out MORE light than a 60 Watt bulb. 60 watt/14 watt = 4.29. So if you account for the power factor, maybe CFLs are 4 times more effective, and not 4.29 times more effective :) Yes, CFLs don't put out as much heat in the winter, but if you are being a good conservationist, you shouldnt have lights on long enough for the heat value to be significant. I'm pretty sure the mercury pollution numbers already take into account the fact that 50% of energy comes from coal. Your strongest argument is on the safety on the bulbs, and I think this piece deserves more healthy arguments and more articles! Thanks for the discussion and healthy debate!
These PR arguments have been repeated by the anti-lightbulb campaign since early 90's but that doesn't make them more true. * First of all CFLs are not 4 times more effective but perhaps 2 times (with light loss and power factor included in the calculation). So that cuts the emissions calculation in half right there. * Secondly, less than half of the energy comes from coal in the U.S. (48.5%) so that cuts the 50% of alleged incandescent 'mercury pollution' into less than 25% of claimed. * Deduce heat replacement effect during the winter and even that small difference dwindles into nothing. Left is the mercury-containing CFL polluting landfills unless each bulb is carefully recycled. CFLs may also constitute a health risk in case of breakage. That the content is 'only' 4-5 mg may sound like very little but there are no safe levels for inhaling mercury vapour. If 4-5 mg was truly insignificant for people's health would authorities issue such detailed guidelines on what to do if one breaks? Would Philips sells $100 spill kits to handle accidents: "Offers Customers the tools to handle the clean up of broken mercury containing lamps. The materials may be placed in a sealed plastic bag and sent to EPSI in the standard EPSI-PAK lamp recycle box. Kit includes a pail containing training video, safety data sheets, instructions, guidelines for clean-up, mercury chemical information, gloves, scraper, brush, pan, dust mask, safety goggles, sponge pads, plastic sealable bags and large plastic bags." Not exactly reassuring as to the safety of their products, is it? ;)

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