Thursday, March 12, 2009

Turning the Curly Fry Light on again

In an earlier post, we demonstrated that in spite of reports to the contrary, compact fluorescent light bulbs are safe for our homes. Oh, and by the way, they're great for our wallets.

Let's turn to their impact on the environment. I've read reports that claim that the environmental benefits of the curly fry lights is overrated because their harm to the environment far outweighs their benefits. So, the question is, do the CFLs have a net gain or net loss environmentally?

The Benefits:
1). CFL bulbs use energy more efficiently than incandescent bulbs.
-Almost 90% of the energy used by incandescent bulbs is lost in heat.
2). CFL bulbs require less energy.
-CFL bulbs are 4x more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs, according to General
Electric and Popular Mechanics
3).CFL bulbs last longer.
-They are reported to last from 5-10 years longer then their incandescent cousins.
4). Fewer light bulbs need to be manufactured to meet our current demand for lighting.
-The longer life of the curly fries means they are replaced less often resulting in less bulbs
5).CFL bulbs reduce the amount of mercury emitted by coal-fired power plants.
-The reduced need for energy that the CFLs demand results in 4x less mercury spewing from
those power plants. See the articles I referenced in my earlier post.

The Negatives:
1). CFL bulbs increase possible mercury contamination.
-If people dispose of their CFLs the way they did their incandescents, via the trash, there will
be an increase in potential mercury contamination.
2). There are few recycling options nationwide.
-As the CFL bulbs contain a toxic sustance, few recycling options present themselves.

These concerns have merit and need to be addressed.

Redecing potential mercury contamination is vital to a healthy world, but the mercury contamination threat posed by compact fluorescent lights is overstated. According to, the U.S. EPA estimates that America is responsible for the release of 104 metric tons of mercury emissions a year, most coming from coal-fired power plants. If all of the 290,000,000 CFL bulbs sold in 2007 ended up in landfills, rather than being recycled, they would add 0.13 metric tons or 0.1% to U.S. mercury emissions.

While it's true that recycling options nationwide are spotty when it comes to CFLs, there is a growing trend to provide options. Home Depot began a program in 2007 that allows customers to drop off expired curly fry bulbs. Home Depot sells the bulbs to companies that reclaim the mercury, crush the glass for reuse and recycle the metal parts. More communities are adding CFLs to the list of items they can recycle, using the same model as Home Depot.

It's time to total the environmental ledger: Obviously, CFLs are a complete net gain for our planet.

There is room for improvement, but in the end, I say, "Curly Fries for everyone!"

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