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Incandescent Bulbs vs CFLs…….An environmental tradeoff?

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Switching from incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bulbs can save energy, but there other other issues.  The environmental complications with fluorescent bulbs (including CFLs) is that they contain mercury…and mercury falls under EPA’s hazardous waste listings and also the Universal Waste Rule (UWR).  While most households dispose of CFLs in their trash, it is a dangerous practice.  Municipal and county landfills simply are not constructed to contain leaching mercury and prevent  it from possibly reaching groundwater sources.  Mercury can also vaporize.  Because of the release of mercury, EPA recommends that if you break a fluorescent bulb, you should:

  • Evacuate the room of people and pets
  • Turn off the HVAC system and leave off for several hours
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes
  • Take special precautions with clean-up and put broken bulb pieces into a sealed jar or plastic zip bag
  • Properly disposed of the the sealed container by taking it to a recycling facility
  • If you have health concerns resulting from the bulb breakage, contact your local poison control center

Changing to CFL’s has implications for people as well as the environment when the bulbs are landfilled. While the switch may save energy, it is not necessarily better for the environment.  Life is full of tradeoffs!

Obviously, there is no simple solution to saving the planet.  It takes each of us using a common sense approach to daily life and doing what is right…..but not necessarily easy!

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