Concerns have been raised about the mercury in Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs),
recycling the bulbs, and what to do if they break. All CFLs contain mercury
and some models contain lead. The vast majority of CFLs end up in landfills
or trash incinerators where these hazardous substances can get released into
the environment. These problems confound those with the goal of living a
life that protects the climate and reduces toxics and wastes. But CFLs are
three times more efficient than standard incandescent light bulbs and
significantly reduce mercury, greenhouse gases and other toxic emissions
coming from coal-fired power plants.
Solid State Lighting (SSL-including
light-emitting diodes (LEDs) technology is developing rapidly, but is still
not readily available for general household lighting needs. The ENERGY STAR
criterion for LEDs was released in September 2007. LEDs will become an
alternative as they become more available and affordable, and are
longer-lasting and mercury-free. ENERGY STAR-qualified LED lights must have
a rated life of at least 25,000 hours. The specification and distribution
of long-lasting CFLs and LEDs minimizes environmental impacts by reducing
the number of light bulbs that need to be manufactured, transported, and
ultimately recycled, as well as the number that may end up in the trash.
LEDs (which are mercury-free but may contain some other heavy metals) should
be evaluated for toxicity and considered when they are determined to be
efficient, environmentally preferable and cost-effective for specific
Until LED lighting is widely
available, CFLs are the next best alternative. There are ways to minimize
the potential for mercury releases from CFBs:
- Purchase ENERGY STAR-qualified
CFLs (www.energystar.gov) with a minimum rated life of 10,000 hours, and
with the highest efficiency (lumens per watt). Use only ENERGY
STAR-qualified lighting products, including CFLs and LEDs.
- Specify lamps with 5 mg (5/1000
of a gram) of mercury or less and favor ones with less than 3 mg. While all
CFLs currently contain mercury, the amount they contain can vary from 1-30
milligrams (mg), depending on manufacturer and model, but some CFLs are
available with as little as 1 mg of mercury.
- Choose lead-free whenever
available (usually labeled as such).
- Choose manufacturers and
distributors offering private-sector-financed collection and recycling
- Purchase models with the fewest
watts to give you the lumens you need. (CFLs tend to fade over their life;
so pick one slightly brighter (30% or so) than the incandescent lamp you are
- Choose lamps made by companies
pledging to keep mercury content below 5-6 mg by going to http://www.nema.org/gov/ehs/committees/lamps/cfl-mercury.cfm.
- Consider CFLs or LEDs with
separate ballasts and transformers when available (so that bulbs can be
changed out separately), just as in fluorescent tube lamps. This will
decrease the amount of materials in CFLs and LED lamps requiring disposal,
help retain longer-lived components during their entire useful life (like
solid-state circuit boards and transformers), and decrease purchase,
recycling and disposal costs for manufacturers and consumers alike.
Broken CFLs Cleanup
If a bulb breaks, open a window
and leave the room for at least 15 minutes. Gently cleanup glass and
powder, use a wet paper towel for the remaining glass and powder, and
dispose all in a glass jar or plastic baggie. Sticky tape is also good for
the powder and glass on carpet. Avoid vacuuming, but after the next
vacuuming, dispose of the bag. For more detailed instructions, the USEPA
fact sheet is available at: http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf