Little recycling available for fluorescent light bulbs with Mercury

So much for well thought out plans:

It's a message being drummed into the heads of homeowners everywhere: Swap out those incandescent lights with longer-lasting compact fluorescent bulbs and cut your electric use.

Governments, utilities, environmentalists and, of course, retailers everywhere are spreading the word.

Few, however, are volunteering to collect the mercury-laced bulbs for recycling -- despite what public officials and others say is a potential health hazard if the hundreds of millions of them being sold are tossed in the trash and end up in landfills and incinerators.

For now, much of the nation has no real recycling network for CFLs, despite the ubiquitous PR campaigns, rebates and giveaways encouraging people to adopt the swirly darlings of the energy-conscious movement. Recyclers and others guess that only a small fraction of CFLs sold in the United States are recycled, while the rest are put out with household trash or otherwise discarded. . . . .

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Blogger cooper said...

As you say, not a lot of thought goes into these governmental mandates.
I started buying these new kind of light bulbs a few years ago because they were advertised to last for years. The first one I bought didn't work at all and I took it back to the store. The next ones I bought burned out in approximately the same amount of time that the old ones did.
So I got screwed, and the rest of the country is about to be in the same position, by federal mandate.

5/18/2008 11:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's no big deal that the light bulbs contain mercury.

Fifty years from now as history repeats itself and there is no politicians left to accept responsibility (not that they ever would) because of the Congessional mandate to use these bulbs, General Electric, Sylvania, etc. will feel the rath of the "asbestos style" litigation lawyers suing the "bulb makers" into bankruptcy for using the evil mercury in their light bulbs.

Why do we knowingly allow history to repeat instead of making history?

5/19/2008 3:38 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

My family won't use these bulbs for as long as we can possibly hold out! I just love how stores like Home Depot and WalMart try and shove these things down our throats and are touting them as the saving grace for the environment. So, it's ok to save a little on energy costs - but it will come at a price of mercury seeping into our water supplies and creating mini Superfund sites in residential homes. Well, not in my house!

5/19/2008 5:14 PM  
Blogger Johnny 5 said...

As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am less enthusiastic than most about compact fluorescent bulbs. This is due to the fact that the ones currently available contain significant amounts of mercury. If one of these bulbs should break inside of a person’s home, it could cause a challenging disposal situation. It is my belief that the technology should progress to a point at which the mercury levels are low or nonexistent before people changeover their entire homes. Another consideration is that as these bulbs burn out, they will most likely be thrown away as though they are normal rubbish and landfills will have incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil as a result.

5/21/2008 5:45 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

5/27/2008 9:57 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear Krissy:

Here is what the EPA recommends if one of these light bulbs break. If this is so trivial, why does the EPA make such a big deal about cleaning things up.


Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room

Have people and pets leave the room, and don't let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces

Carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag.
Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug

Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.
Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding and Other Soft Materials

If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be thrown away. Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.
Disposal of Clean-up Materials

Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.
Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming

The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming.
Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.

5/27/2008 10:14 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank John Lott, I already know the EPA clean up steps, I have followed them a few times in the past couple of years. The most important thing to remember is the vent the room for atleast 15 mins and them mercury levels in the air are minium.

Another great thing to happen recently is that recyling of CFLs is now much easier. The Home Depot announced its CFL recycling program yesterday (6/25). Since 80% of homes are with 10 miles of a local The Home Depot store recycling CFLs should no long be an issue.

6/25/2008 2:37 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear Krissy:

Do you know how costly you are making it if you require people to drive on average 5 or 6 miles to drop off their CFLs? Sure some will be going their anyway, but what cost are you imposing on others? How do you compare the small energy savings from CFLs to the loss of people's valuable time?

6/25/2008 4:51 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

OK John- let’s do the math.

You save about $30 or more in electricity costs over each bulb's lifetime (www.energystar.gov).

Average cost of a gallon of gasoline is $4.09 (http://www.eia.doe.gov/oil_gas/petroleum/data_publications/wrgp/mogas_home_page.html).

80% of homes are with 10 miles of a local The Home Depot.

Average gas mileage for cars is 24 mpg (http://www.dailyfueleconomytip.com/miscellaneous/average-gas-mileage-relatively-flat-between-1980-and-2004/).

10/24 = .4167 * $4.09 = $1.70 * 2 (for a round trip) = $3.40 in gas costs.

Let’s assume that this trip takes you 30 mins.

The average hourly pay rate in the US is $18.01 (http://www.dol.gov/)

$18.01/2 = $9.00

$9.00 + $3.40 = $12.40

$30.00-$12.33= $17.60

You still save $17.60!

7/03/2008 11:14 AM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear Krissy:

Well, there are a couple minor points to make. I believe that you are using the average weekly earnings of manual labor workers.

implies that the hourly wage is $18.01 for production and nonsupervisory workers

Next, people's time value must be more than what they are getting for work because they are not working during those hours. If they valued their time at $18 or less per hour, they would be working.

There are other time costs. For example, keeping track of the different garbage to recycle. Making sure that you don't turn the light off within fifteen minutes of turning it on because otherwise you greatly shorten the life of the bulb.

Finally, there is the most important problem and that is even if the savings from using these bulbs are true, why not simply not recycle and throw the bulbs out with the rest of the garbage? You get the supposed benefits and someone else bears the cost. It is called free-riding.

In any case, if what you are saying is true, why mandate that people use these bulbs? You claim that using the bulbs and recycling them pays for itself. If true, people will do this without mandates. Right?

7/03/2008 12:09 PM  

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