Are Greener Lightbulbs the Way to Go?


I’m sure you have noticed that the light bulb section in your local store is really changing. It is amazing how quickly businesses have taken the new compact florescent light bulbs. That is because at heart we all want to help our environment. The great thing about the greening of light bulbs is that we are looking for more energy efficiency and less damage to the environment as a whole. In fact CFLs may cut energy use by 10%. But are the new CFLs the best option? Back in Edison’s day, everyone traveled by horse and people were put off by all the manure in the streets and the expense of feeding and caring for a horse that might only live a certain number of years. Then cars were developed and everyone thought how much better for public health and safety they would be. Now after all these years we realize that not only the pollution of fossil fuels, but the need to get rid of all those old cars have turned meadows into non-degradable auto part graveyards. We have also polluted our cities and ourselves with vehicle emissions. We can see the negative effects over time. This will also be the case with CFL light bulbs.

Like any other fluorescent, they contain pollution within, in the form of mercury. Now granted the amount of mercury in only one lightbulb is about the equivalent of 100 cans of tuna fish, so it may not seem like much. But hanging over your kitchen counter, they have the ability to dust your kitchen with unseen particles of mercury any time they are broken.

The mercury also means that technically they are hazardous waste and must be disposed of as such in order to prevent environmental toxicity. Just imagine thousands of light bulbs in trash that is being compacted or burned. In each and every case, the mercury is released into our environment from each lightbulb disposed of. Some companies are attempting to circumvent this problem by providing recycling programs for CFLs, but these are mainly in highly populated areas.

Now let’s look at the lifestyle aspects of the CFLs. First, they are generally very white, very bright and very harsh compared to incandescent bulbs which provide a softer glow. People that are sensitive to light often complain about the brightness of these new bulbs, forcing them to buy lower wattage bulbs. But then the light is really not well-suited to detailed tasks such as reading. Many lighting fixtures have exposed bulbs, making the new bulbs not only ugly to see, but also blindingly harsh. One way that companies have tried to address this problem is by coating the bulbs with a phosphorus compound but then we have another potential toxicity to deal with.

Also, the truth is that we are a society that loves dimmers, and CFLs do not work with most dimmer switches.

So what’s the solution? Wait... In the near future, technology is emerging that will provide energy efficiency in lighting without the side effects. One such option is LED or light-emitting diodes, which will be cheap enough and available enough for households within four years. We already see LED technology in cell phones, flashlights and even digital equipment. Where incandescent bulbs convert less than 10% of incoming energy into light, and CFLs are 18-20%, LEDs can provide up to a 40% conversion rate.

So stock up on incandescents for the time being, and simply turn off the lights when not in use. LEDs are on the way...