Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Monday, January 21, 2008

The end of incandescents

Did you know that as part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the U.S. is phasing out incandescent bulbs?

That's right, starting in 2012, 100 watt bulbs will no longer be around. 75 watts will be phased out in 2013 and 60 watt bulbs go to the light in 2014. These bulbs will supposedly be replaced by more efficient bulbs such as CFLs.

I think this is good news, although I'm still concerned of the mercury disposal associated with throwing out CFLs. We really need to have an easy and cheap way of disposing our CFLs otherwise, with this forced changeover, I'm afraid the majority of people will just throw them in the trash. Then they will be headed straight for the landfill and possibly, the groundwater.

The other problem is that most people just aren't educated enough about the problems with CFLs. Do you know what to do if you break a CFL bulb? Most people don't. The EPA considers a broken CFL to be a "hazardous waste spill". You are supposed to leave the room and air it out for at least 15 minutes to let the mercury vapors settle down and then clean up the room carefully, wiping the floor with damp paper towels that should be disposed of outside. And don't use a vacuum, or the mercury vapor will be dispersed, plus you'll have all that junk in your vacuum. And then there are those who just pooh-pooh the dangers of CFLs. Who is right?

So, while I'm glad to see that more energy savings are on the horizon, I think there are still some holes in the plan that need filling. What about recycling centers that accept CFLs? Well, you have to drive there to recycle them and depending on where you live, the amount of gasoline to get there probably outweighs the savings from switching to CFLs in the first place.

In Seattle, we have stores where you can drop off your CFLs, but it costs money and they aren't all conveniently located. What kind of CFL recycling do you have in your area?


From the lion's mouth said...

Are you absolutely sure the EPA classes a broken CFL as a hazardous waste situation? I have just searched their website and all I could find was this fact sheet which doesn't say anything quite that extreme -

I've been using them for years, and I've never broken one anyway. And here in Australia all incandescents are being phased out by 2010. I say hurrah.

Burbanmom said...

In Canada, you can take them to your local Home Depot store to be recycled:

I *thought* you could do the same thing here in the US Home Depots, but can't find any supporting info online.

I did, however, find this article which says that Ikea stores recycle CFL's in the US

I don't have one close enough to home to check it out, though. So I guess I'll just keep all mine together until the next time I head north (twice a year) and stop in and drop them off.

Suz said...

Here, here, Rebekka! We have them all through the house - we put them all in in a day and knocked $50 of the next electricity bill! Not only that, but replacing bulbs has become a very rare event - they last about 4 years. That has to help reduce their overall impact. I am sure that when less efficient bulbs are out, manufacturers will come up with efficient lighting that doesn't require mercury.

Anonymous said...

I tried taking some to the hosehold hazardus waste collection site that is held quarterly in my little town. They wouldn't take the CFLs saying they were lightbulbs and should go in the trash... But they did take the left over gooey paint and used motoroil and lawn mower battery.
I Would love to find something online to print and take to town hall before the next collection - so they can understand the CFL bulbs do need to be handled differently.

I also don't want to pay to dispose of them - not when I pay more per bulb to begin with - and the nearest IKEA is 70 miles from me.

Lisa Zahn said...

Does anyone get headaches from their CFLs? I haven't had a problem, though I read somewhere that some people are. I know I'm sensitive to flourescent bulbs in offices and stores, but so far the home CFLs are fine for me.

I have learned not to buy the cheap CFLs as they don't last as long. It's unfortunate, because they are expensive. Anyone else find this to be true? (that the cheaper ones don't last as long as they say?) I am saving my packaging and receipts for each one as they do have guarantees for a certain number of years. I'm going to see if the more expensive ones hold up. Also, of course, I wish I could buy USA-made bulbs but haven't found any. Some incandescents are still made in USA but not the CFLs in the stores. Oh, I take that back. At the co-op where I work we have some exhorbitantly expensive full spectrum CFLs made in USA. I guess I should consider those...

I did break a CFL once, outside. I just picked it up unkowing the hazards. This was probably 8 years ago. I've always hoped it didn't give me some of the health problems I have experienced. At one point I was being tested for Multiple Sclerosis. Maybe it was mercury poisoning? Anyway, hopefully they will come up with merc-free CFLs soon.

Lisa in MN

Melissa Anderson said...

As far as I know our little town in Kansas, or even nearby Manhattan, does not have a place to return the bulbs. (I have been checking the last few times I've been out.) We are slowly transitioning to them, in the kitchen and the dining room. Manhattan has a Walmart and Home Depot. I think they, and other retailers, should accept the bulbs if they are going to sell them.
I also agree with anonymous. We should not have to pay to have them disposed of properly. I didn't ask them to put dangerous chemicals in my light bulbs!!

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know where I can get CFLs for a chandelier? These are the last of the incandescents in my house.

Anonymous said...

My local Home Depot said they would take them and put them in their hazardous waste bin. The nest time you are near a home depot, ask them. If they say yes, ask them to advertise it. :)


Greenpa said...

It's worth remembering that we (us humanoids) have changed lighting technologies multiple times in the last 300 years- and each change has been rather traumatic, with a big learning curve. And lots of complaining. And always the new technology was more expensive; up front.

We went from firelight/torches to rushlights to candles to olive oil to whale oil to kerosene to kerosene with mantles to gaslight to gaslight with mantles to incandescent bulbs to fluorescents to - compact fluorescents. So far.

Every step of the way, tons of people "hated" the new lights, for zillions of reasons; almost always including the quality of the new lights. Too bright; too harsh, not friendly.

We change anyway- I think because in most cases the new lights are "cheaper per brightness" if that's comprehensible. CFLs are way cheaper than other possibilties - if you just look at life-span costs, instead of "up front". Which we sure need to get in the habit of doing.

Each one of these technologies has had it's own waste problems, too. We go ahead regardless.

Theresa said...

'Old fashioned' big tube fluorescent lights also contain mercury don't they? We managed to deal with those for all these years, surely we can deal with CFLs?

DC said...

We replaced nearly all of our incandescent bulbs with CFL's a few years ago, and we have definitely saved money. We estimated that we are saving over $100 a year in electricity costs (we replaced about 30 bulbs, including those in closets and the garage).

That being said, we have had about 10 CFLs burn out during that time. In places like bathrooms where you turn the lights on and off frequently, the bulbs don't last nearly as long.

The only place we can dispose of CFLs locally is the municipal hazardous waste facility, and we have to make an appointment to drop them off and drive to the other side of town to get there. It's not that big a deal, but it's too much of a hassle for a lot of people, and I think most CFL's are ending up in the trash.

The EPA has a list of sites nationwide where you can drop of your CFLs here. There aren't that many. All retailers who sell CFLs should be required by law to accept them for recycling. It's incredibly irresponsible to pass a law requiring people to buy a product with mercury in it and not set up a system to handle the hazardous waste associated with it.

This being said, there's no reason to panic. CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within glass tubing – an average of 5 milligrams – about the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury. The EPA has instructions for cleaning up a broken CFL here. Manufacturers are finding ways to reduce the amount of mercury in CFLs, and it may be that some day they will not contain any.

LED bulbs are the wave of the future. They contain no mercury or other toxic chemicals, they are more efficient than CFLs and last longer, and they aren't sensitive to frequent on/off cycles like CFLs are. Right now, they are very expensive ($50 a bulb) and aren't that bright. Eventually, they will get better and cheaper. Eventually might be a while, though, if manufacturers are making a lot of money from selling CFLs and don't want to develop and manufacture a better product because they can get richer by selling an inferior one.

My bottom line recommendation to people who are considering replacing their incandescent bulbs with CFLs is to do it. They use 75% less energy, and while they are not completely benign, they aren't that dangerous. The benefits outweigh the risks.

Crunchy Chicken said...

Thanks, DC, for the follow-up links! I'm going to have to start paying you...

Anonymous said...

As someone who works at Home Depot I can tell you most will not want to take your broken CFL light bulbs b/c we do have to put them in our hazardous waste bin and it costs a lot of money to have a company come take away the waste. And if they started having an open recycle program people would bring back light bulbs that they didn't even buy from the HD costing the company money for sales that were never made. I think it is a great idea to have a quick easy place to recycle but I just do not want everybody going to the Depot only to be denied. I know our store here in Ohio is not allowed to take them. Even customers who bring the old bulb in to make sure they get the right replacement have to take the old bulb home and can't throw it in our trash cans.

Christy said...

As a chemist, my opinion is people are way overly paranoid about mercury. The small amount that is in a CFL is pretty much irrelavent. If you broke a case of CFLs then you might want to worry. But 1 bulb, just sweep it up and move on with life.

Christy said...

Lisaz - Mercury poisoning happens from being exposed to the fumes in a chronic way. 1 exposure to a small amount of mercury isn't going to cause poisoning. The hatters that used to get mercury poisoning were exposed to the fumes everyday for years before symptoms developed.

Anonymous said...

We made the big switch to CFLs 5 years ago and for a long time I saved the few that burned out in a box on a shelf in the garage because I didn't know how to recycle them. This box was next to the box of "disposable" batteries I also didn't know what to do with. A few months ago, my waste company sent its annual brochure-in-the-bill and I actually read it. Turns out we have a hazardous waste recycling program just a few miles away every Saturday. I took those boxes from the garage and recycled all of it for $5. The $5 flat fee is waived here if you're recycling computer components. For us, it's close, convenient and not wildly expensive. I agree that the recycling should be a lot more uniform throughout the US and completely free for the consumer, tho.

Chandelier CFLs can be found on eBay and (gasp) WalMart. Just saw them on the shelf yesterday. The ones I have are bigger bulbs than regular chandelier bulbs, but the base is small enough to fit. Watch the watts; I got 9w (which say they replace 40w) and that's really bright in a chandelier! I'll know better in 7 years when they need replacing.

Oldnovice said...

I agree that there's a little too much paranoia involved with the "mercury" bulbs.

We have ONE in place right now (in my home office), because the incandescent bulb burned out and we replaced it with a new one. We have others, but we're not going to replace them just to replace them, and nothing else has burned out.

We really don't use much lighting, so for us switching wouldn't save much if anything. Sometimes we use my office before or after the sun comes out/goes down, so need a little artificial light. The tradeoff, [there's always a tradeoff, ya know] is that all the windows that provide light throughout the day ALSO allow heat to escape.

Greenpa said...

Lisaz: "Does anyone get headaches from their CFLs? I haven't had a problem, though I read somewhere that some people are. I know I'm sensitive to flourescent bulbs in offices and stores"

Headaches are less common with CFLs than with older fluorescents; primarily because their ballasts operate at much higher frequencies- the old ones often just ran at 60Hz, which is easily within the direct perception range for lots of folks- and can be irritating.

There may be other health problems with CFLs, though; CFls and insomnia

"I have learned not to buy the cheap CFLs as they don't last as long." Quite true, I think. My own strategy at this point is to assume the most expensive one is better (silly, but sometimes true.) The problem with frequent on/off cycles was bigger in the early versions- newer ones are better.

DC: "LED bulbs are the wave of the future. They contain no mercury or other toxic chemicals, they are more efficient than CFLs " I thought so too, until my brother called me on that- turns out a huge amount of LED efficiency is still- THEORETICAL. And the ones you can buy may be much less efficient than a good CFL.LEDs and efficacy/efficiency

Folks need to realize that most popular information on both CFLs and LEDs tends to be gross simplifications at this point. There is HUGE variation in the different stuff on the market. I use both- on the 12VDC house circuits. The LEDs available for tail/warning light replacements on vehicles are way cheaper than others; and darned bright. My bed light is now a pure amber tail light- plenty bright for reading, and easy on the brain.

Anonymous said...

Yes I have this concern too (that the average American won't go to the trouble of proper disposal). And I don't know if I got a bad batch or what, but the first two CFLs I ever bought and touched broke on me. Ahhh!!

I searched to find where to take mine.

Nova said...

i'm one of those unfortunate people who gets a splitting headache if i'm in the same room as an *uncovered* CFL for more than 5min :( just means i have to use enclosed light fittings in our house, so it's only an issue when we go out..

our biggest preference is to just avoid turning a light on at all! lol saves even more power!

organicneedle said...

Consumer Reports had an article about the recycle issue of CFLs. They covered most of the concerns mentioned here: cost,lack of availability, lack of education. In the article they mentioned a brand that actually comes with a return envelope. The cost of the postage is included in the buying price. I can't for the life of me remember the name of the brand or find it online. Did anyone else read that?

I also found a company that makes recycling containers and envelopes that store up to 60 bulbs for those of you far from a center. They can be found on again- not cheap 60$ a pail- and you have to find a store or center that will take them when it is full.

If you are near an Ikea you are in luck. They take the CFLs for free.

Lisa Zahn said...

Christy and Greenpa, thanks for answering my questions. I actually haven't been too concerned about the mercury in the bulbs, nor the stuff in my dental fillings! But, I do read a lot of natural health info. and I also work at a natural food co-op where we have customers who go to great lengths to remove their mercury fillings, etc. I think mercury in our environment is a concern, but there are probably worse things out there to worry about...I don't particularly attribute my (mostly former) health problems to mercury, but it's still an interesting question.

We have noticed definite electricity savings since switching to mostly cfls. I will read greenpa's link on cfls and insomnia. Should be an interesting one!

Thanks, Lisa

BoysMom said...

We use some: they're much cheaper for the big overhead fixtures that take five or seven bulbs (we have two of those in our current rental) and the only way we can get more than 40 watt equivilent lighting out of the old lamps.
That said, to the best of my knowledge, there's no special disposal place around here, just the landfill, for them. (Even old computers go there, and they're much nastier.) I've only broken a couple: one had a visible weak spot before we put it in that it broke at. Also, they do break when dropped. We try for as much natural light as possible since I'm frugal, but with my husband working and runing a computer repair business, he's up til all hours.
Crunchy, I cannot believe how strong you are and how good you are at continuing on with life. You're amazing.

DC said...

Greenpa, thanks for the additional information on LEDs. In terms of efficiency, if you are comparing lumens per watt of currently available consumer bulbs, I agree with you that there are CFLs that outperform LEDs. LED bulbs are still in their infancy, however, and I am going to stick with my original statement that they are the wave of the future. Cree already makes an LED bulb that puts out 70 lumens per watt, better than the 60 lumen per watts that CFLs put out. A Japanese company has made an experimental LED that can put out 130 lumens per watt. True, consumer versions of these bulbs are not yet available, but I would not say that LED efficiency is only theoretical either. Cree’s 70 lumen per watt bulbs are already in high volume production for commercial applications. I believe that consumer versions of these bulbs will be available in time. Of course, it is also possible that CFLs will make efficiency strides. We’ll have to wait and see how it all develops. Thanks again for your thoughts on this subject.

Shelley Sargent said...

We use these throughout our home. I had no idea that there was a special way to clean if you break them. NONE. Shows how much I paid attention.
So....where can I find more information about that. I do have a puppy and a small child.

girlosun_9 said...

I know that I recently saw a sign at our sam's club (affilated with walmart but for bulk buying) that said we can return our cfls there and we have several local hardware stores that offer the same. I haven't had any go out yet but plan on just accumulating several (like batteries) before I go bring them back. I haven't fully researched the recyling needs/concerns with cfls yet though so the store and wait part might change :)

Natural Louisville said...

The little town of Frankfort used to offer curbside recycling of glass. Then, it sold out its recycling program and stopped offering glass pickup, so now most of Frankfort's glass goes into the trash.

There's a place to drop it off, but how many people are going to do that compared to the curbside pickup? It's hard enough to get the recycling company to actually give you the curbside box to use (they will, but begrudgingly).

I'm almost positive what glass service they do have doesn't include light bulbs -- the last time I went to the glass receptacle I saw the sign prohibiting it.

Crunchy, you're amazing for carrying on in light of all that's going on in your life ... I'd be hibernating by now in your shoes! Hang in there.

Marilyn@A Mixed Bouquet said...

I just found this site and need to look over your info.

I need to do more research on this. I get headaches with the older florescent lighting (long tubes). I haven't noticed a problem with this other type.

I was told there was little/no flickering in the new ones, but the old ones caused the problems. A friend's migraines and another friends seizures are trigger by the older ones. My son is special needs and many of them have difficulty with the older style.

Is there a good place to research this type of situation? Perhaps I'll find my answers here, but wanted to post. :-)

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else have pets who are fascinated by CFLs? My kittens won't stop touching the ones in my table lamps, and I'm a little worried, thinking they might break one with their claws or by knocking a lamp over.

Anonymous said...

One of my biggest concerns with florescent lights is the increased electro-magnetic fields that they generate. I don't know what the long term health issues are if any or whether anyone wants to study it. On the other hand, incandescents don't produce as nearly as much EMF but they are very inefficient. I do know that I'm personally inundated with florescent lighting at work and almost every indoor building made. But I'm quite ambivalent about my personal policy to make my home as EMF free as possible.

Anonymous said...

We have NO recycling for CFLs, even though the government keeps giving them away. I have a small collection to take to the big city next trip.
I am a little concerned about the mercury and possible other vapor emissions from CFLs and am getting excited that LED lighting is becoming accessible for everyone.
Love, Peace, Bicycle grease