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If fluorescent light bulbs contain hazardous mercury, why do we use them? Isn’t mercury a hazard in landfills?
Fluorescent lighting technology is not the ultimate option for generating light where the sun can’t shine, but it’s an energy-smart and environmentally sensible alternative to less efficient “conventional” types of lighting. Fluorescent bulbs use 75% less energy than the incandescent bulbs people have used since Thomas Edison perfected them in the 1870s. Couple this efficiency with the fact that incandescent bulbs waste up to 90% of the energy they consume by producing heat (counter-acting air conditioners!)you’re your energy bills will make the case for changing up your light bulbs.
Yes, it’s true that fluorescent bulbs of every size and shape contain mercury. Mercury is the gas that makes the coating inside the tube “fluoresce” and produce light, when the gases are excited by a bulb’s electric current. Other, less hazardous materials and technology produce light in LED bulbs (which use 90% less energy than Edison’s classic and now historic incandescent). Your choice to phase in LED bulbs, as these products become more widely available and affordable, will leap-frog over your mercury concerns and further boost your lighting efficiency!
But if you can’t completely switch to LED bulbs, absolutely swap your Edison specials for CFL, or compact fluorescent, bulbs in your home lighting fixtures. The amount of mercury in a CFL is 100 times less than the mercury in old-style fever thermometers and – most importantly – is a minute, miniscule, infinitesimal source of pollution compared to the mercury (released by burning coal) you would send up the smoke stacks of your local power plant by using inefficient lighting technologies – and having your lights compete with your AC in a typical steamy St. Louis summer.
Less of an issue – not quite a non-issue – but an important mercury pollution difference to understand.
Modern landfills are constructed and monitored to safely contain the stuff disposed there – but when you recycle your CFL bulbs, the mercury in the lamps you used will be safely and efficiently recovered. Find convenient CFL recycling drop-off kiosks in every U.S. Lowe’s and Home Depot store - and some local hardware and lighting stores as well.
Energy efficient lighting is a bright idea!