Compact Fluorescents Definitely Better

Monday, April 09, 2007

A letter to the editor of The Capital Times from John Reindl, recycling manager for Dane County:

In the past several weeks, there has been a controversy about the environmental impacts of using fluorescent bulbs, which contain mercury, vs. incandescents, which contain lead.

All fluorescents contain mercury, with compact fluorescents having about 5 milligrams. These bulbs are more energy-efficient than incandescents, and the reduction in energy consumption reduces the emission of mercury and other harmful substances from power plants.

According to fact sheets of the Federal Energy Star program and the Wisconsin Focus on Energy program, a typical compact fluorescent will reduce the emissions of mercury from power plants by 8 to 10 milligrams in comparison to the use of equivalent incandescents, which is more than the mercury contained in compact fluorescents.

All compact fluorescents should be recycled, but even if they weren't, they still reduce the amount of mercury emitted to the environment.

And, of course, using compact fluorescents also results in reductions in other emissions, including carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Dane County is fortunate to have nearly three dozen locations that accept these bulbs for recycling. While some recyclers have a nominal charge, it is minor compared to the estimated $30 or more that a consumer will save in electricity costs with a compact fluorescent.

These recycling locations can be found on the Dane County recycling Web page.

While most of the attention on the light bulb issue has focused on the toxicity of mercury in fluorescents, it should also be noted that incandescents contain significant quantities of lead - also a toxic material - in the solder on the base of the bulbs. These bulbs should also be recycled to protect the environment.