While many people enjoy the idea of preventing pollution, reducing the cost of energy, and generally keeping our environment clean, a grounded rational approach must be applied when trying to achieve such goals. One such area that could use some of this rationale is the expansion of compact flourescent lightbulbs in the homes across America.
It’s easy to understand the benefits of switching from normal incandescent bulbs to CFL’s. CFL’s use around 75% less energy then normal bulbs and have a longer lifespan. With points like that it’s no wonder that Wal-Mart aimed to sell around 100,000,000 CFL’s in 2007 when they began to spread throughout the market. However, it would be naive to assume that CFL’s are the end all be all in ushering in a new green era.
One key component that allows CFL’s to maintain their low energy usage is mercury. Although the amount of mercury in each bulb is only around 4-5 milligrams, compared to the 500 milligrams that old style mercury thermometers contained, caution should still be used when disposing or dealing with a broken CFL. So much so that the Environmental Protection Agency has a page dedicated to informing people on out to properly dispose of the bulbs.
Since mercury is considered a toxic element it is required by State and the Federal government to follow procedure to make sure that the bulb is properly disposed of. However, this is often easier said then done when you consider the likelyhood of people to follow these procedures when they might not know about them, there isn’t a proper waste disposal site nearby, and they don’t realize that the CFL’s actually contain mercury.
While the 4-5 milligrams contained in each CFL isn’t alot on its own if proper disposal methods aren’t follow there is pontential for adverse environmental impact. Consider the idea that if CFL’s continue to replace normal incandescent lightbulbs and people continue to dispose of them as if they were regular lightbulbs. The volume of CFL’s that could end up in landfills and other trashsite’s could be enough to release enough amount of mercury into the groundwater that an environmental disaster could be brewing without people being 100% aware.
While this situation is merely speculation it wouldn’t be hard to fathom it actually occurring, considering how many people are realizing the energy benefits of CFL’s without seeing their potential longterm affect. So unless more aggressive and upfront information is provided to consumers about properly disposing CFL’s and ensuring greater environmental safety, then the backlash of embracing CFL’s could be hard for people and the environment to deal with.