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Switching from traditional incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) is an effective, simple way to save energy and save money. Making the change helps use less electricity at home and prevents greenhouse gas emissions that lead to global climate change. Lighting accounts for about 20 percent of the average home’s electricity bill. ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs:
- use up to 75 percent less energy than comparable incandescent light bulbs
- last up to 10 times longer
- cost little up front
- provide a quick return on investment
If every home in America replaced just on incandescent bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL, in one year it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of about 800,000 cars. Because CFLs also help to reduce greenhouse gasses, other pollutants associated with electricity production, and landfill waste, they are clearly the environmental winner when compared to traditional incandescent light bulbs.
CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing – an average of 4 milligrams (mg). By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury – an amount equal to the mercury in 125 CFLs. Mercury is an essential part of CFLs; it allows the bulb to be an efficient light source. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact (not broken) or in use.
Most makers of light bulbs have reduced mercury in their fluorescent lighting products. Thanks to technology advances and a commitment from members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the average mercury content in CFLs has dropped at least 20 percent or more in the past several years. Some manufacturers have even made further reductions, dropping mercury content to 1 mg per light bulb. (EPA/DOE,2011)
EPA estimates the U.S. is responsible for the release of 103 metric tons of mercury emissions each year. More than half of these emissions come from coal-fired electrical power. Mercury released into the air is the main way that mercury gets into water and bio-accumulates in fish. (Eating fish contaminated with mercury is the main way for humans to be exposed.) Most mercury vapor inside fluorescent light bulbs becomes bound to the inside of the light bulb as it is used.
EPA estimates that the rest of the mercury within a CFL – about 11 percent – is released into air or water when it is sent to a landfill, assuming the light bulb is broken. Therefore, if all 272 million CFLs sold in 2009 were sent to a landfill (versus recycled, as a worst case) – they would add 0.12 metric tons, or 0.12 percent, to U.S. mercury emissions caused by humans. (EPA/DOE,2011)
Electricity use is the main source of mercury emissions in the U.S. CFLs use less electricity than incandescent lights, meaning CFLs actually reduce the amount of mercury into the environment. As shown in the table below, a 13-watt, 8,000-rated-hour-life CFL (60-watt equivalent; a common light bulb type) will save 376 kWh over its lifetime, thus avoiding 4.3 mg of mercury. If the bulb goes to a landfill, overall emissions savings would drop a little, to 3.9 mg. EPA recommends that CFLs are recycled where possible, to maximize mercury savings. (EPA/DOE,2011)
|Light Bulb Type||Watts||Hours of Use||kWh Use||National Average Mercury Emissions (mg/kWh)||Mercury from Electricity Use (mg)||Mercury from Landfilling (mg)||Total Mercury (mg)|
Because CFLs also help to reduce greenhouse gasses, other pollutants associated with electricity production and landfill waste (because the bulbs last longer), they are clearly the environmental winner when compared to traditional incandescent light bulbs. (EPA/DOE,2011)
EPA recommends that consumers take advantage of available local recycling options for compact fluorescent light bulbs. EPA is working with CFL manufacturers and major U.S. retailers to expand recycling and disposal options. Consumers can contact their local municipal solid waste agency directly, or go to http://epa.gov/cfl/cflrecycling.html or http://www.earth911.org/ to identify local recycling options.
If your state or local environmental regulatory agency permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the bulb in two plastic bags and put it into the outside trash, or other protected outside location, for the next scheduled trash collection. Never send a fluorescent light bulb or any other mercury-containing product to an incinerator.
If your ENERGY STAR qualified CFL product burns out before it should, look at the CFL base to find the manufacturer's name. Visit the manufacturer’s web site to find the customer service contact information to inquire about a refund or replacement. Manufacturers producing ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs are required to offer at least a two-year limited warranty (covering manufacturer defects) for CFLs used at home. In the future, save your receipts to document the date of purchase. (EPA/DOE,2011)
CFL CLEANUP AND DISPOSAL OVERVIEW
The most important steps to reduce exposure to mercury vapor from a broken bulb are:
- Before cleanup
- Have people and pets leave the room.
- Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
- Shut off the central forced air heating/air conditioning (H&AC) system, if you have one.
- Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb.
- During cleanup
- Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
- Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.
- After cleanup
- Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of properly. Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
- For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the H&AC system shut off.
LED stands for light-emitting diode. LEDs are small light sources that become illuminated by the movement of electrons through a semiconductor material. LEDs can be integrated into all sorts of products to provide white and colored light, such as flashlights, light bulbs, and integrated light fixtures. LEDs are 75% more efficient than standard incandescent light bulbs and can be used on a dimmer switch or photocell.
LEDs for home lighting have come to stores just recently. They are very energy efficient and can last up to 25,000 hours! LEDs are perfect for hard to change light bulbs such as high ceiling light fixtures. As the technology is new, LEDs can be costly. A 60 watt incandescent equivalent LED can cost anywhere from $15 to $40. As with any new technology, the cost should come down over time.