Replacing Bulbs To Save Energy

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - June 20, 2007
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By now you’ve probably seen that TV spot promoting the use of compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs. The EPA encourages their use because CFLs use two-thirds less energy and last 10 times longer than standard bulbs. Because of my role as Hawaiian Electric’s public spokesperson for energy renewables and conservation, many of you have stopped me to tell me you’ve replaced or are thinking of replacing your bulbs. To all of you who are doing so, I thank you. You’re doing the environment a big favor, and saving money, too.

Some of you also have questions concerning the mercury content in CFLs, and I am glad you asked!

It is true that CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury, an amount equivalent to the tip of a ballpoint pen. To put it in perspective, it would take 100 or more CFLs to equal the amount of mercury contained in a single home thermometer. According to the EPA’s website, manufacturers have taken huge steps in reducing the amount of mercury in CFLs over the past decade. The site goes on to say that the products are safe to use in your homes and that no mercury is released when using CFLs.

If a bulb does break, clean it up as you would any other glass light bulb. The biggest danger to you, according to the EPA, is not from the tiny amount of mercury, but getting cut on shards of glass. Sweep up the broken glass; do not vacuum. Then wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel. Put the glass and the paper towel in a plastic bag, seal, and throw it in the trash.

One reader, Elizabeth Mann, asked these very good questions in an e-mail to me. She’s concerned about how to properly discard the bulbs when they finally do burn out. “I searched on the Internet trying to find the nearest location for disposal and could find nothing specific on CFLs. Can they be returned to stores for recycling? Are there any convenient locations where they can be turned in? I want to do my part to prevent pollution of the environment. Keep in mind that I live in Makaha and with the price of gas, I can’t afford to be making long trips to dispose of a few light bulbs. Has the City and County or the state made plans for convenient recycling of these light bulbs? Along with promoting these energy-saving light bulbs, the recycling problem needs to be addressed. After all, isn’t that the whole point of using these light bulbs, to save energy and thus save the environment?”

The answer to your last question, Elizabeth, is a resounding yes. For your other questions, I turned to Hawaiian Electric’s Peter Rosegg for answers. Right now, he says, neither the city nor state offer a bulb recycling program. “Currently CFLs used in households are considered ‘universal waste’ and are not regulated, so home owners can send their used CFLs to the municipal landfill. Since bulb recycling is not yet available in Hawaii, the Department of Health provides the suggestions for properly disposing of CFLs.

“Homeowners are encouraged to wrap the bulbs in sealable plastic bags so if they break in the trash can or dumpster or after they are picked up the chances of mercury impacting the surrounding area or opala handlers are reduced.” In other words it’s OK - for now - to throw them in your regular trash, just be thoughtful about it. Seal it in a plastic bag so your trash guys won’t be affected should the bulb break.

On the national level, the EPA is trying to get manufacturers and retailers to develop their own recycling programs, but that is still a work in progress.

For us, Rosegg says, “Locally, longer-term, Hawaiian Electric is looking into ways to encourage a CFL recycling program, through some kind of incentives, and perhaps partnering with another agency or organization. As Hawaii has learned from the HI5 program, it will not be easy. But as the use of CFLs increases (something we are all working very hard to make happen), we are going to have to find a solution. We’ll keep you posted.”

Elizabeth, I am concerned about this as you are, but I am firmly convinced about the need to switch to CFLs now. Keep in mind these bulbs last years-and by the time you need to discard them a solution should be in place.

If you have questions or comments, you can go to and use the .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
. You’ll get a personalized answer from Peter Rosegg or someone else qualified at HECO to answer your particular question.Or e-mail me and I’ll try to get the answer. Thanks for being concerned and involved.

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