Tuesday, February 8, 2011

CFL Disposal & Clean Up

We're loving the new Tuesday Green edition of the CA. Today's column by Deanna Caswell focuses on proper clean up and disposal of CFLs...

Practically Green: Beware of toxic mercury inside home's compact fluorescent bulbs

In my last column, I talked about the benefits of compact fluorescent light bulbs over incandescent and how to avoid some of their problems. But, I held out one so I could dedicate a whole column to it: Mercury.

Mercury is a toxic element, and is currently an unavoidable part of CFLs. Each CFL contains about 5 mg of mercury, equivalent to the tip of a ballpoint pen. For comparison, those old mercury thermometers we all used as kids had 50-100 mg of mercury in them. And like the thermometers, the mercury in CFLs is released only if the glass is broken. Broken bulbs release mercury vapor and a mercury- containing phosphor powder.

Home exposure

If you break a bulb, don't freak out. According to energystar.gov, the biggest danger of breaking a CFL in your home is getting cut on the glass. Now, if you break 65 bulbs at once -- leave the house. But one bulb:

1. Open a window, if possible

2. Leave the room for a few minutes to let the vapor dissipate.

3. Sweep up the shards (no vacuum)

4. Wipe the floor with a damp disposable towel.

5. Put all of that in a plastic bag.

Environmental exposure

First, it's important to know that coal- burning energy plants put off mercury, too. And that over the life of an incandescent bulb, the coal-fired power plant will put off about 13.3 mg of mercury, compared with 3.3 mg for the CFL.

A larger problem is spent bulbs tossed into the trash. Once in the landfill, the bulbs will almost surely break. And we don't want mercury in the soil and ground water. In fact, a new Tennessee law (Public Chapter 840) was passed last year that prevents businesses employing more than 10 people or occupying buildings more than 3,000 square feet from tossing their CFLs in the trash. Many states have laws that don't allow homeowners to do it, either.

Proper CFL disposal

Any Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware and IKEA store will recycle them for you.

Energy Star bulbs have a two-year warranty, if one of those goes out early, you can take it back to the retailer.

The Shelby County Hazardous Waste Facility (6305 Haley Road) will also properly dispose of your used CFLs.

If none of these facilities are an option for you, there are mail-back programs available like lamprecycling.com. I've also seen some recommendations to place your bulbs in a crush-proof container before tossing in the bin. But if these options are not available, just make sure your sanitation folks don't use an incinerator. That is bad news for mercury.

So, overall, even if you have to toss them in the trash, the total mercury exposure to the environment is less than incandescent bulbs. But let's not be lazy. It may soon be illegal to throw them in the landfill. Get used to hauling them to the home improvement stores. Before writing this article I had no idea I was doing it wrong. Dang, now I need ANOTHER box in the garage.

1 comment:

VaporLok Products, LLC said...

As this post states, CFLs are a better solution, both economically and environmentally, than incandescent bulbs, which ultimately result in greater mercury exposure than CFLs, because they consume more power and require more power generation. In comparison to their incandescent counterparts, CFLs emit approximately the same amount of visible light and last 8 to 15 times as long. With a proven packaging configuration and proper disposal, CFLs can be used effectively without releasing harmful mercury vapor.

While a variety of containers are marketed for transportation of fluorescent lamps and CFLs, many don't provide sufficient protection against mercury vapor emitted from broken lamps. As this post states, consumers should properly dispose of these lamps if broken or burned out. If a lamp burns out, consumers can learn how to safely package CFLs here: http://vaporlok.blogspot.com/2010/05/layers-of-protection-packaging-used.html. If a bulb breaks, consumers can learn more about clean-up procedures here: http://vaporlok.blogspot.com/2010/07/cfl-usage-and-what-you-should-do-if-cfl.html

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