Many American are not aware that the incandescent light bulb invented by Thomas Edison over 100 years ago is scheduled to be phased out, starting in 2012, in favor of other lighting technologies such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Although on the surface it seems like a good idea, it may in reality be a double-edged sword.
In December of 2007, the new US Congress passed an energy bill that outlaws the sale of most incandescent light bulbs starting in 2012 with the phase-out of the 100 watt incandescent light bulb. The final phase-out of incandescent lights takes effect in 2014 with the elimination of all incandescent lighting down to the 40 watt bulb. On the surface, it sounds good, because we have all seen that other technologies, such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), are much more energy efficient because more of the energy consumed goes into producing light, rather than wasting it as heat. Almost 90% of the energy consumed by standard tungsten incandescent lighting is given off as heat, rather than light.
The new law mandates that by 2014 all light bulbs must use 30% less energy than today, which is a hurdle that standard incandescent light bulbs cannot meet. By 2020, all light bulbs must be at least 70% more efficient than today. Today there are only 2 lighting technologies that can meet this efficiency requirement: LEDs (light emitting diode) and CFLs.
LED technology is rapidly improving, but currently is not as cost-effective and does not produce the same level of brightness as a CFL. Current LED technology requires an array of LED lights to achieve an acceptable level of brightness. It is possible that LED lighting will improve in the next few years to the point where it is practical to use for home and business lighting. LEDs have a few very clear advantages over CFLs: They do not break easily, they last much longer and they do not create a toxic waste hazard when they are broken.
There are some issues that people need to be aware of regarding CFLs.
- The typical spiral design necessary to produce enough light in roughly the same space as a tungsten bulb makes CFLs inherently fragile.
- CFLs contain mercury, and if you break one it produces toxic mercury contamination that can be particularly hazardous to children and pets. CFLs are considered to be hazardous waste and are not supposed to be tossed in the trash.
- Third, the majority of CFLs are manufactured in China, which once again makes the US consumer dependent on a foreign source for a product.
A particularly scary story was reported by World Net Daily called Consumers in the Dark About Risks of New Light Bulbs. The story tells of a Prospect, Maine woman who accidentally broke a CFL in her daughter’s bedroom. She contacted Home Depot, who advised her to call the Poison Control Hotline, who then advised her to call the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. They sent a specialist, who advised the woman to contact a local environmental cleanup firm because the level of mercury in the room exceeded safe limits. The bottom line was that the woman faced a $2,000 environmental cleanup bill because she accidentally broke a CFL light bulb in her home.
Most people are not aware of the hazards associated with compact fluorescent lights. There are special procedures to follow if you accidentally break one of these light bulbs. It appears that the State of Maine offers the most detailed information regarding what to do if you break a fluorescent lamp in your home. Please read their detailed instructions. This is something that is good to know before you run into a problems with a broken bulb.
Due to the nature of mercury and mercury vapors, your cannot simply vacuum up the pieces, nor can they be placed in a plastic bag. Mercury vapors penetrate a plastic bag. Lamp particles and debris must be placed in a tightly sealed glass jar.
Because of the hazardous waste issue, burnt out CFLs are not supposed to be thrown in the trash. Home Depot, Wal-Mart and several other retailers are accepting burnt out CFLs for recycling, which can be placed in a plastic bag as long as they are not broken. Also, many cities and municipalities have recycling programs for disposing of burnt out compact florescent bulbs. Contact you local city for more information.
Personally, I think the use of CFLs is a bit scary due to the current issues with toxic mercury contamination when they are broken. Hopefully, by the year 2012 science will produce a viable non-toxic CFL or LED lighting technology will improve to the point where it will be the best choice for lighting.