Home Depot, the nation’s second-largest retailer, has announced that it will take back old compact fluorescents in all of its U.S. stores, creating the nation’s most widespread recycling program for the bulbs.
Until now, most U.S. consumers had to seek out local hazardous waste programs or smaller retail chains willing to collect the bulbs for recycling, like Ikea and True Value. Others bought kits to mail the bulbs to a recycling facility.
Hard as it may be to believe, one of your most common household items will shortly be outlawed: the incandescent light bulb.
Earlier this year, U.S. Congress passed a bill that will put an end to their use by 2014, although recent news indicate that some members of Congress are having second thoughts, and questioning the constitutionality of their decision. But as it stands right now, starting in 2012 it will actually be against the law to sell regular incandescent light bulbs.
The U.S. is not alone in this decision. Australia, Italy, and the Philippines are also banning sales of incandescent light bulbs by 2010.
Many question the reasoning behind this radical decision, but once you begin to look at the overall benefits of making this switch, I believe most will come to agree it’s actually a step in the right direction, with more benefits than drawbacks.
CFL Bulbs = More Money in Your Pocket
For starters, incandescent light bulbs are extreme energy hogs, using about 3,600 KWh over 60,000 hours worth of use, compared to 840 KWh for a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL).
Translated into money, the CFL bulb can save you as much as $630 on your electric bill over 60,000 hours of use.
But not only that; although CFL bulbs cost more initially, once you take into account that an incandescent bulb has a lifespan of just 1,500 hours, compared to 10,000 hours for a CFL, you have to purchase an average of 6.5 incandescent bulbs for each CFL, which makes buying CFLs less expensive in the long run.
If you want to further review and compare the benefits and drawbacks between incandescent bulbs and CFLs, as well as LED (light-emitting diodes) bulbs, productdose.com offers a great light bulb comparison spreadsheet that you can print out.
CFL Bulbs = Significant Environmental Benefits
Now, there’s been some arguments going around about CFLs having a detrimental impact on the environment, so I want to make sure to address and clarify that issue.
As an example, one of my readers expressed her dismay in Vital Votes in a previous article I wrote about mercury, stating,
“I wish Dr. Mercola would acknowledge that he sells light bulbs that contain mercury in amounts that DWARF a typical vaccine by 200 times. I have repeatedly asked this site to address this problem and warn their customers. If broken in a home the level of exposure is in MILLIGRAM amounts. The most noxious single spill amalgam excretes approximately 20 mcg per day, thus acute toxicity from a broken light bulb is a real issue. Additionally most people simply discard these bulbs to go to the local landfill further contaminating our environment.”
Although I replied to the post personally at the time, let me expound on and clarify all those issues again here.
Mercury Exposure from CFL Bulbs – First let me say that, yes, CFL bulbs do contain anywhere between 1.4 to 4 milligrams of mercury. (As a way of comparison, an old-fashioned thermometer contains approximately 500 milligrams.)
However, people do not eat or inject fluorescent light bulbs. This may seem obvious and beside the point, but it needs to be stated that the mercury inside the CFL bulb poses zero health risk as long as the bulb is not broken.
Naturally, if you accidentally smash one open, you will be exposed to a small amount of mercury, just as you would if you were to break an old thermometer, so common sense would dictate that you’ll want to install and uninstall them in a safe manner to avoid an accident.
For instructions on what to do if you were to break a bulb, please review, print out, and keep this EnergyStar fact sheet handy.
Technology is getting better, however. According to EnergyStar, the mercury content of the average CFL bulb has dropped 20 percent in the last year alone, and as I’ll tell you shortly, there may be even better options on the horizon.
Mercola Selling Mercury -- Secondly – and this refers to my selling of mercury-containing CFL light bulbs specifically -- ALL fluorescent bulbs contain mercury. That is simply how they work, at least at the present time. I can guarantee you I will switch over to mercury-free bulbs as soon as they become a viable and available option, which is in fact already in the works.
My team has been in research and development for over two years to produce a COST EFFECTIVE alternative LED bulb (which, by the way, radically reduces energy consumption even further than CFLs) and contains zero mercury. LED bulbs are clearly the bulb of the future. Unfortunately, this technology is still far too expensive. Each bulb would cost well over $50, and most likely closer to $100. The other challenge is to produce an LED bulb that has a similar beneficial wavelength as the full spectrum bulbs we currently sell.
However, I’m confident that this will all change in the near future, and when it does, you will be the first ones to find out about it as I will offer it here on my site.
Environmental Mercury Emissions -- Last but not least, the MOST significant issue many people fail to appreciate is that because CFL bulbs reduce energy consumption by as much as 75 percent, they also vastly reduce coal burning, which is THE most common source of energy production in the U.S., which currently deposits 104 METRIC TONS of mercury into the air, each and every year!
So by reducing the total energy consumption with these bulbs, the overall environmental mercury burden is significantly lowered.
To give you another example of the drastically reduced mercury emissions that can be accomplished by switching to CFLs; according to EnergyStar calculations, if ALL 290 million CFL light bulbs sold during 2007 were broken and sent to a landfill instead of being recycled, they would release 0.13 metric tons of mercury into the environment.
That worst case scenario -- if EVERY bulb sold in the U.S. last year were broken -- the mercury in the environment is still a mere fraction of the 104 metric tons of mercury emissions we’re currently producing through our wasteful energy consumption. 1/10 of ONE metric ton versus over 100 tons.
Folks, that is a 1,000 FOLD difference, even in a worst case scenario. Clearly, when you use these bulbs you will LOWER environmental mercury, and if you are cautious and responsible and return the bulbs to recycling centers like Home Depot, you can make that difference even more dramatic.
Have a Conscience – Dispose of Your CFL Bulbs Responsibly
Despite the fact that disposing of your CFLs into a landfill can still, comparatively speaking, reduce the overall environmental mercury load, I clearly would not recommend it.
I think Home Depot has done us all a great service by taking charge of a vital component of this switch, by making sure that you have a way of complying without much hassle or expense. After all, they’re the second largest retailer in the U.S., with store locations that are convenient to most.