Monday, August 3, 2009

Compact fluorescent lamp bulbs not so 'green'

As an eco-friendly or “green” product, compact fluorescent lamp light bulbs are a failure.
During my recent move, a burned-out compact fluorescent bulb was among the toxic items I needed to dispose of properly.
I’ve written before that if recycling or waste disposal isn’t easy, people won’t do it. Curbside recycling and hazardous waste pickup is the ideal. We had that in Wilmette, Ill., for aluminum and steel cans, plastic bottles, newspaper and junk mail, and even lead-acid batteries and motor oil. But the village didn’t pick up everything, such as fluorescent light bulbs.
My options for the dead fluorescent bulb were limited and not well publicized. Researching on the Web what to do with the bulb yielded few attractive options. The village of Wilmette collected them at the town hall one day a month. I was told you could dispose of them at the local hardware store for free if you bought a new one. I was moving, so that was not a good option. Home Depot stores also will take them back.
The only other option was to drive 30 miles back and forth to a central hazardous waste facility in Chicago. No way to that.
Ultimately I was able to sweet talk the public health official at Wilmette village hall to take my compact fluorescent bulb and a regular tube fluorescent light ahead of the monthly collection date. She also took a mercury thermometer and some prescription medicine that needed special disposal as well.
I suspect that most people wouldn’t have bothered and would have pitched the stuff in the trash. CFL bulbs may be energy efficient, but the mercury they contain doesn’t make them a good green item because most of those bulbs will end up in the landfill anyway. (CFL bulbs also are supposed to have long lives, but the one I disposed of did not.)
Our best option in the future is LED lights but the price needs to come down to be affordable to mainstream consumers.

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