By: Nora Prevoznak - Associated Renewable, Inc.
Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) are energy efficient light bulbs that have become widely popular and basically the normal for building installations, because it uses 75 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb. It also lasts at about 10 times longer. Environmental Leader, the Natural Resource Defense Council says CFLs represent a modern success story; saving consumers money, reducing costs for utilities, growing the economy, and protecting the environment. A typical CFL bulb will save a consumer $30 to $50 over its six-year lifetime, and often is purchased in a multipack for less than $2 a bulb. It is safe to bet that CFL sales will continue to increase and all property owners should learn these benefits.
However, CFLs can be dangerous because they contain a degree of mercury, which is essential as the ballast. Mercury, and phosphor coating inside the bulb work together to efficiently convert electrical energy into visible light. CFLs contain about 4 to 5 milligrams of mercury, a very small amount, which is sealed in the glass tubing. As long as the mercury is intact and sealed the bulb is safe, however if the CFL breaks there is an appropriate clean up guide that users should reference. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, and it's especially dangerous for children and fetuses. That is why the EPA provides steps to follow if the bulb breaks, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) strongly encourages New Yorkers to recycle CFLs safely. Careful recycling of CFLs prevents the release of mercury into the environment and allows for the reuse of glass, metals and other materials.
Several stores now offer drop-off for unbroken and broken CFLs, including Ikea, Home Depot, Beacon Paint & Hardware. Walmart has accepted expired bulbs at take-back events. Recycleabulb provides a list of places that will recycle CFLs. The NYC Department of Sanitation’s Special Waste has its own public location sites available to drop off bulbs. Since programs have encouraged the mass distribution of CFLs, most professionals and consumers argue there is a shared responsibility for them to be part of the solution to inform consumers, help develop an effective recycling infrastructure, and ultimately improve recycling rates.
Approximately 670 million fluorescent light bulbs are discarded each year in the United States. These discarded bulbs can release approximately 2 to 4 tons of mercury per year into the environment. As sales for CFLs keep growing and balloon, this could be a more serious problem.
In January 2012, a US federal standard became effective that requires all light bulbs sold to be 28 percent more efficient than a normal incandescent light bulb, and to continue to improve over time. A ban on incandescent light bulbs took effect in the European Union in October 2012, making more efficient lighting technologies (CFLs and LEDs) the standard across Europe. The global demand for artificial light will be 60 percent higher by 2030 if no switch to efficient lighting occurs, giving great reason for many countries to encourage efficient lighting.
Following the path of CFLs, LEDs (light-emitting diode) are becoming more popular. The average projected lifespan of an LED light is 50,000 hours, compared to a CFL’s 10,000 hours and an incandescent 1,200 hours. For example, Ikea plans to stock LEDs exclusively by 2016 because it believes the rapidly evolving technology will likely outperform CFLs in the near future. Unlike ordinary incandescent bulbs, LEDs don't have a filament that will burn out, and they don't get especially hot (and do not have mercury). They are illuminated solely by the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material. Although LED lamps are currently expensive to buy for individual consumers, bulk procurement by governments, tax incentives and subsidies are making them a viable alternative.
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