The Lowdown on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Reader Contribution by Julie Smith
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Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) help decrease energy usage costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to usage of traditional light bulbs (incandescent). CFLs were originally developed in 1976 by Edward E. Hammer, an engineer with General Electric. The design met its goals, however it would have cost GE about $25 million to build new factories to produce the lamps, therefore the invention was shelved. In 1995, the design was copied and manufacture and sales of the bulbs became more readily available. Since that time sales of CFLs has increased and incandescent bulbs are soon to become a thing of the past. In 2007, legislation was passed setting standards for maximum wattage requirements. This effectively banned the further manufacture and importation of incandescent bulbs.

Less Energy, Longer Usage

The advent of CFLs brings wonderful energy efficiency for the consumer. According to the Energy Star website (a US Environmental Protection Agency and US Department of Energy program.) “ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy (electricity) than incandescent light bulbs, last up to 10 times longer, cost little up front, and provide a quick return on investment.”

Additionally, the CFL bulbs emit far fewer mercury emissions ( known to damage our environment) than the traditional incandescent bulbs. When in use, an incandescent bulb emits approximately 5.5 mg. of mercury. The CFL emits only1.2 mg. Now this is all terrific, energy savings AND helping to eliminate greenhouse gases…the problem begins when you try to dispose of the used bulb.

Disposal Issues

When CFLs are disposed, the mercury in them is released into the environment in the form of a gas. Mercury is not released if the bulb remains intact/unbroken. The amount of mercury in an individual bulb is negligible, but when multiplied by millions of households it bears consideration. In recent years, manufacturers have reduced the amount of mercury substantially. The average mercury content in CFLs has dropped at least 20 percent in the past few years. When CFLs were first introduced on the market, recycling options were readily available. Now that the mercury levels have decreased, vendors that previously offered recycling stopped offering that service. If you are using CFLs and need to find a recycling facility in your area, a quick search on Earth911 will help you find a local facility. There is also the consideration that CFLs may someday be replaced by LED lighting.


LED Lighting

LED lighting has expanded usage in the market, but may not replace CFLs in the foreseeable future. Many of the LED applications, started as indicator lights and later were frequently used in digital clocks. While LEDs have the advantage over CFLs that they do not contain mercury, they may contain other hazardous metals such as lead and arsenic. Also, their popularity for household lighting is limited because of high cost compared to the CFLs. However, with increased expansion in the marketplace, and consumer demand, prices of LEDs will probably decline. With improved technology, and the benefits that they provide, LED bulbs could very well soon become choice for economical, green lighting.

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