Shedding a Little Light

You’ve heard by now how much more efficient Compact Florescent Light Bulbs (CFL) are than the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. Replacing the light bulbs in your home or business is a single step that everybody can take (I think I read it’s now mandatory in Australia, and lawmakers in California and New Jersey are considering bans on incandescent bulbs) to save significant energy and reduce greenhouse gases.

Walmart is jumping on the GREEN bandwagon (image is everything) promoting the bulbs to their customers. Great! But the downside is the mercury these bulbs contain.

…in January 2007, Wal-Mart announced it had set a goal of selling 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs this year. But, even after two months, Wal-Mart has refused to adopt a national recycling program to deal with the serious environmental threat posed by the mercury content contained in the CFL’s.

Without a national recycling program, Wal-Mart’s efforts to sell 100 million CFL’s could result in the spreading of an estimated 227,273 pounds of mercury into American households.

Some large chains, like IKEA, are also making themselves responsible for recycling these bulbs from their customers who buy them. Apparently, some serious soil and water contamination is probable given enough broken bulbs in places where that dangerous element might enter the food chain.

So, the take home: get low-mercury CFL bulbs (we don’t do Walmart, period) and gradually phase out all the old style. (We’ll have to replace a couple of our old favorite lamps here at Chez Goose Creek that take the large-based 3-way bulbs, but that won’t kill us.) But be very careful what you do with the bulbs once they finally burn out (should you live so long!) They ARE a hazardous waste!

And come on! Wake up, Walmart!

Today on Nameless Creek: A New Kind of Calvin-ism

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Out of curiousity, why is it a retailer’s job to take care of a recycling step that should be the responsibility of the consumer?

    If you want people to take care of the environment, when place the blame where it belongs: With those who use the products and then dispose of them. We bought our last batch of CFL bulbs at our local hardware store and they don’t offer a program to return the bulbs to them for recycling.

    Let’s be fair Fred. I know you hate big box retailers but don’t fall victim to the double standard of expecting them to supply a service that you don’t demand from a local establishment or stretch to find fault when they might, even by accident, offer a product that might actually do some good.

    And, BTW, I have it on record that you have been observed making a purchase at the dreaded Wally-World. 🙂

  2. Maybe it’s just me, but those inflated lifespans for the bulbs are bull from my past experience. So don’t plan on not outliving your bulbs unless you are already planning to checkout soon. I know I’ve changed almost all of my CFL bulbs at least twice already, and in the early days no one was talking about the mercury problem.

    Now, whats the approved way to recycle these things in areas without mandatory recycling? (or much of a voluntary program either)

  3. i’ve been wanting to replace my bulbs, too. but i had no idea about the mercury. like gary, what IS the best way to dispose of them? we live in an area where there is hardly any recycling programs.

  4. My fear is that they will ban the old type bulbs completely and then what will I use to heat my well house all winter and keep it from freezing? One 100W incandescent bulb in a well insulated well house lasts a long time and keeps two houses with running water no matter how cold it is outside.
    All other bulbs in the house have been converted.

    A reader in Pulaski, VA

  5. This reminds me of a question I’ve been meaning to ask since I found your blog. Has Floyd iniated any sort of recycling program yet? We visited a couple of years ago (looking for potential retirement) and inquired at the visitor’s center about such things. At the time the answer was “no”. What happens to cans, bottles, paper and cardboard at your house? I really enjoy your writings and photography and I can’t believe it doesn’t extend to your stewardship of the earth (especially after reading about the lightbulbs!)
    Can you give me any hope that Floyd is assuming this responsibility?
    Your blog really helps this homesick soul!

  6. when we moved into our little house (c. 1810) down here in sc most of the light bulbs present in the fixtures were those compact flourescents, left by the previous occupants who came from california and were ostensibly, therefore, better educated as to what was environmentally-sound practice. within 6 weeks we had replaced every single one of them with either 25-watt or 40-watt soft white or pinky-peach colored conventional lightbulbs. they gave me a rip-roaring headache, besides the fact that they looked just plain silly glowing like curling pale electric-blue seaworms thru the c. 1940s fixtures.

    we also use a 100-watt bulb in the wellhouse ’cause well, it works. and fwiw, also hate bix box retailers. for multiple economic reasons (see the blog).

    for indoor lighting, we use natural light from those things called “windows” for the most part, and are also heavily into those odd little things called “beeswax candles.” the lower-wattage conventional bulbs we use more closely mimic the type of light our tired eyes are used to.

    just my 2c.