Green Wednesday: CFLs and Mercury

From on November 19, 2008 in Electrical


It has been coming up a lot lately. I see it in the headlines and I hear it from friends and family. “Don’t compact fluorescent lights have dangerous amounts of mercury in them?” This has been a big criticism of these widely accepted, energy saving lights. Sure they last 10 times longer and use much less energy than incandescent bulbs, but the mercury in them will end up in landfills or, worse yet, cause major harm if broken in the home. This and similar fears have sparked some very heated discussion about CFLs and their appropriateness in the green home.

I decided that I should get in on this discussion. It turns out that concerns about CFLs are not exactly unfounded, but a bit reactionary and easily mitigated. There is a lot of useful information available if you are concerned about mercury and CFLs. I’ll provide some links for further study at the end of the article. But first the big problem with fluorescent lighting: mercury.

Mercury levels in CFLs are hazardous to human health and the environment.

  1. Recycling. In terms of environment, preventing mercury from entering landfills and water supplies is easy through recycling. There are several ways to go about recycling your CFLs. Companies like Sylvania offer recycling kits. Other information on recycling CFLs in your area is available from the EPA among others.
  2. All recycling aside, CFL’s put less mercury into the atmosphere than conventional incandescent bulbs because of the amount of burned coal required to light the incandescents.
  3. Furthermore, nearly 90% of mercury in fluorescents is bound to the glass and unlikely to be released if broken.

The fact is that a certain amount of responsibility is required from CFL purchasers. But it is not much. The need for energy conservation is prevalent. In answer to that need, utilities, manufacturers, and local governments are joining forces to make energy efficiency easier for homeowners. That includes promoting CFLs and making recycling an easier task.

On a more aesthetic level, CFL manufacturers are solving problems involving the odd quality of light emitted by CFLs, the size of the bulbs and others. CFLs now emit a wider spectrum of light and can give off more light without over-increasing the size of the bulb.

More Useful Links:

Photo Credit: Purza7