End is Coming for Environmentally UNfriendly CFL Bulbs

The end for compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) is coming because they will be environmentally unfriendly and energy inefficient compared to cheap new light emitting diodes (LED) alternatives. But what will we do with all the current CFLs with about 5 mg Hg each able to contaminate 5000L of water beyond safe drinking levels?

led-christmas1

LED Christmas Lights

Can you believe the day would come so soon that new technology would make CFLs environmentally unfriendly and energy inefficient? LEDs are actually not new technology. They can be found in your Christmas lights, although don’t get the impression your future lights will be like these. LEDs are little slices of semi-conductors, gallium nitride (GaN) to exact. And when I say small, I mean small. At less than 1 sq mm, they can be put virtually anywhere, in any shape or collage because each piece is so small, and can extend into the infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) spectrum beyond the visible. They have not been used till now because of economics. It cost less to make CFLs than LEDs, but not any more, apparently.

LEDs also use 75% less energy, and could take light energy usage for the United States from 20% to just 5%. That’s actually more than 75% when I think about it, because the 5% is of a smaller overall energy pie than the 20% from which the pie came. Doing the math shows it’s an 80% decrease. Think 20 of 100 as the big pie, 4 out of 80 (5%) as the small pie.

LEDs also have no mercury. Hopefully, I won’t have to tell you about the harmful impacts of mercury. I wouldn’t have enough room in this blog!

led-diagram

How LED Lights Work

However, CFLs do. Each CFL is estimated by Environment Canada to contain between 1-25 mg of mercury. In Europe alone, way back in 2006, 4.3 million tonnes of Hg was sold. At 1000 L of water contaminated beyond drinking levels if not disposed of properly, the impact can be monumental. And don’t forget all the other plants and creatures depending on water supplies, not just humans. Even if we knew what not to drink, creatures all around us don’t, and we’ll probably get a good dose of it as we consume them for mercury will migrate up the food chain.

So what are we going to do with all those CFLs with mercury in them? Basically, the lesser of “harmful” solutions to the environment. Use your CFLs until done, then properly recycle them at hazardous waste stations. I know not everyone has access to such a program or service, but hopefully, as the CFLs come out of service, the demand for them will increase supply of such service providers. Let’s hope the economics that brought CFLs into the market will work to take them out responsibly.

If you don’t have access to services properly disposing of CFLs, check to be sure with Earth911. If not, refer to this Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) page.

From some brief reading, at least, gallium and gallium nitride seem relatively safe. Can’t wait!

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 6.5

2 thoughts on “End is Coming for Environmentally UNfriendly CFL Bulbs

  1. Great article! I to am excited about LED’s. Unfortunately I think the technology for general lighting is not there. The products I have tested have not been up to par as far as light output (initial and through out its life) though I think there is definately a light at the end of the tunnel. As for CFL’s the mercury amount has at point bordered on hysteria but nonetheless CFL’s should be recycled and I hope the ways and means for doing so will be more and more available to the average consumer.

    Dr. Z

    • Thank you for your comment, Dr Z. You’ve got quite the highly focused blog there on light bulbs! I applaud your passion!

      I am not as knowledgeable as you on the LED technology. However, I was wondering if the ones you tested were similar to the kind touted in the article by Fast Company linked in the blog post (first link). Also, I don’t know if they (and certainly not I) meant to propose a small light bulb size collection of LEDs to replace the CFL and tungsten bulbs now. I was thinking of something more like a large square on the ceiling or such. As someone who does feng shui for a hobby, I try to avoid point sources of light for a softer look, and LEDs might help with that. Regardless, if LEDs’ potential is really as touted with energy and lack of toxic wastes, then I hope it will be feasible to the masses soon.

      Minh

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