Moms Columns & Blogs

Know Your Stuff Before Purchasing Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

The New York Times recently published an article titled “Consumers frustrated with energy-saving bulbs”.  Seems more and more people are learning the hard way that energy saving compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs are not always the best option. Yes, CFLs use less energy and last longer than traditional incandescent light bulbs but only when and where they are used properly.   But that isn’t all there is to know about these bulbs.  Do Your Part and get all the facts before investing in CFLs for your home. 

Let’s start with using CFLs the right way.  If you don’t, you will significantly reduce the life of the bulb (and your savings!).  CFLs should only be used in light fixtures that will be on for long periods of time and not on and off frequently throughout the day. CFLs should not be used in ceiling fans where the vibration can cause the electronics in the bulb to fail.  If the light fixture is on a dimmer switch, you’ll need to buy a special CFL bulb for that and the same goes for outdoor or 3-way light fixtures.

All fluorescent bulbs contain a small amount of mercury. Like other hazardous waste, used and unbroken CFLs should be taken to a qualified recycling center.  Retailers like IKEA and Home Depot will also recycle the bulbs for you.

Supporters of CFLs claim that the mercury in one bulb is significantly less than mercury produced from burning coal to light an incandescent bulb.  This is true but the conversation shouldn’t stop there. All CFL bulbs are made in China and India where environmental controls are lax at best and workers are undoubtedly exposed to mercury in the production process. Power plants in these countries also release significantly more mercury (and other pollutants) into the air than American power plants due to the lack of pollution control technology. Airborne mercury doesn’t know boundaries.  It travels the globe and is being measured in mountaintop cloud physics laboratories in this country and others.

And yes, traditional incandescent bulbs available in the U.S. are primarily made in China too.

So what’s the “greenest” solution to help you tread lightly on the planet today? A mix of incandescent and CFL bulbs that we turn off when we leave the room.  The future, though, belongs to light emitting diode (LED) bulbs that will be more durable and energy efficient than even CFLs and they won’t contain mercury. If only we could get General Electric to make the bulbs in the U.S.  Now that would make the most sense for the environment and our unemployment rate.