This is an update of an article I wrote for another blog in 2008:
Everyone knows that switching out your light bulbs to CFL saves money, but many people are concerned about the mercury in them.
According to John Balbus, M.D., Chief Health Officer at Environmental Defense, CFLs contain less mercury than was in the old-fashioned mercury thermometers. And even broken, he says the exposure rate is about equivalent to a “can or two” of tuna fish.
In addition, when compared to the total life cycle of incandescent bulbs, from production to the amount of energy from a coal-burning plant needed to power the bulb over its life, CFLs are responsible for far less mercury in our environment. According to Popular Mechanics:
Approximately 0.0234 mg of mercury—plus carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide—releases into the air per 1 kwh of electricity that a coal-fired power plant generates. Over the 7500-hour average range of one CFL, then, a plant will emit 13.16 mg of mercury to sustain a 75-watt incandescent bulb but only 3.51 mg of mercury to sustain a 20-watt CFL (the lightning equivalent of a 75-watt traditional bulb). Even if the mercury contained in a CFL was directly released into the atmosphere, an incandescent would still contribute 4.65 more milligrams of mercury into the environment over its lifetime.
But even if there is less mercury used in the total production, the CFLs do have a small amount mercury inside each bulb. Clearly, we want to avoid throwing spent bulbs into the regular garbage where they can easily break and end up in our landfills. Yet it can be inconvenient to collect the used bulbs for delivery to Miami-Dade’s Home Chemical disposal sites.
This is why Ikea, Home Depot and Lowes have set up light bulb recycle programs in their stores. The Environmental Coalition of Miami and the Beaches (ECOMB) has also set up a drop-off collection site at its offices: 210 2nd St, Miami Beach. (They ask that you call first if dropping of CFLs, batteries or ewaste.) And to make recycling your compact fluorescent lighting really easy, Smart At Bulbs offers free pick-up in the Greater Miami area.
Industries have been recycling mercury for years. Now with easy options like those noted above, consumers can too. We can all make the switch to Compact Fluorescent Bulbs with less worry about mercury in our environment.