Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are the most prevalent energy efficient bulb curently available. Consuming an average of 75 per cent less electricity than conventional incandescent lights, CFLs reduce overall demand for electricity and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel power plants. Improving light emitting diode (LED) technology promises even greater electricity savings while avoiding some of the issues (mercury content, disposal) of CFLs.
LED bulbs are still quite expensive and until they become more affordable for the average consumer it is important to use the most efficient technology that we can afford. An incoming Canadian efficiency standard is set to take effect in 2012 and will end the sale of inefficient bulbs. This has led researchers on the path of developing high efficiency incandescent bulbs, an option for those who prefer the light given off by conventional bulbs or have sensitivity issues.
Switching to energy efficient lighting represents a great opportunity to reduce your carbon footprint and save money on your electricity bill. While there are obvious environmental benefits to switching to more efficient lighting, consumers need to be aware of safe handling and disposal practices.
In order to achieve this energy savings, CFLs require a small amount of mercury in their design; far less than the amount contained in other common uses such as watch batteries or dental fillings. Moreover, because coal fired-power is Canada's largest source of human-made mercury emissions, the use of efficient CFLs actually results in less mercury released into the environment overall.
For more information, read The Mercury Policy Project: Shedding Light on Mercury Risks from CFL Breakage.
Cleanup and Disposal
If a CFL does break or eventually burns out it is important to follow safe clean-up and disposal procedures. To maximize their environmental benefit it is important that CFLs are recycled and do not end up in the landfill. Many large retailers such as the Home Depot and Ikea have a collection box in their stores. Some municipalities also have programs for disposing household hazardous materials such as paint and batteries and may have a program for mercury containing products depending on your location. If a CFL should break, proper clean-up procedures need to be followed.
For detailed cleanup procedures, read the Environmental Protection Agency's recommendations for cleaning up a broken CFL.
Just like paint, batteries, thermostats and other household chemicals, CFLs should be disposed of safely. Here are some links to locate a CFL recycling center in your area:
Get Your Money's Worth
Here are a couple of tips that can help your bulb reach its full life expectancy:
- CFLs work better in lamps and fixtures with a bit of space around them, as opposed to recessed lighting, which can trap heat and cause premature burn-out.
- Turning a CFL fixture on and off quickly also can shorten the bulb's life. Energy Star recommends using CFLs in fixtures that are generally left on for at least 15 minutes each.
- Using regular CFLs in light fixtures with a dimmer switch will shorten their life dramatically. Use only CFLs clearly labeled as "dimmable" for this purpose.
- When installing CFLs outdoors, check the package first to ensure that the bulb is approved for outdoor use.
- CFLs may not hold up to the stress of power surges. Using them in certain rural areas or workshops may not be advisable.
CFLs emit a small amount of UV radiation (the same as the sun emits). New research has shown that some individuals with sensitive skin conditions such as lupus may be susceptible to reddening of the skin when in close contact with the bulbs.
Research by the UK's HPA advises that open (the curly bulb is exposed) CFLs should not be used where people are in close proximity — closer than 30 cm or 1 ft — to the bare light bulb for over 1 hour a day. In locations requiring close proximity to CFLs for extended periods of time, encapsulated bulbs (the curly interior is covered) prevent nearly all UV from being emitted.