May 18, 2008

How are you disposing of your fluorescent bulbs?

It's not easy.
[M]uch of the nation has no real recycling network for CFLs, despite the ubiquitous PR campaigns, rebates and giveaways encouraging people to adopt the swirly darlings of the energy-conscious movement. Recyclers and others guess that only a small fraction of CFLs sold in the United States are recycled, while the rest are put out with household trash or otherwise discarded....

Compact fluorescent bulbs each contain roughly 5 milligrams of mercury, which health professionals say is tiny in relation to the amount in a glass thermometer. Using that estimate, almost 2 tons of mercury were in the 380 million sold last year....

Kim N. Dietrich, a professor of environmental health at the University of Cincinnati, said the bigger concern is the hazard that would result if the mercury from millions of bulbs escapes into the air and waterways before working up the food chain.

"I'm just amazed that the government is not paying more attention to this," Dietrich said.

Me too. It's obvious that much of those 200 tons is going to go into ordinary waste dumps every year. [CORRECTION: 2 tons.]

I hate fluorescent bulbs anyway, for aesthetic reasons. I'm willing to save energy by turning off or dimming more lights. But maybe you don't feel the aesthetic problem and you don't care about my trivial suffering. Why don't you care about the mercury?

113 comments:

chuck b. said...

We haven't had one burn out yet, but when we do we can take drop them off at our local independent hardware store which is a few blocks away, and where we take batteries when they run out.

chuck b. said...

(What happens after that, I don't know.)

Chip Ahoy said...

I don't know. My AeroGarden®™ suggests replacing the bulbs every 6 months, which I find excessive, but it doesn't say what to do with the old ones. I'm open to suggestions.

I like the bright light.

The distress of thinking about this has caused me to Photoshop Tom Harkin.

bearbee said...

"I'm just amazed that the government is not paying more attention to this

I'm always amazed when people say that they are amazed by government idiocy. People in Congress rather than thinking through the consequences of legislation prefer to pander.

California has passed legislation to ban incandescent bulbs, phrasing out by 2018. Other states are proposing similar legislation.

George said...

They'll probably go in trash cans in huge numbers, until the manufacturers place RFIDs in each one, and all garbage trucks are outfitted with receivers.

If the truck get a positive signal, the trash collectors won't take your garbage.

Something to look forward to.

We'll probably also start getting our garbage weighed. If you are over your household limit, you'll be taxed on the overage. Great revenue source!

(An RFID is a tiny, tiny two-way radio chip.)

PS--I had fluorescents everywhere in my house until recently. The light they emit is not as good as incandescent, and they don't generate heat. And they do burn out, I think, as often as incandescents do.)

UWS guy said...

Humans have had the warm yellow glow of the sun and of camp fires for 100,000 years. I find that the colorless white of fluorescent bulbs don't comfort me at night.

jimbino said...

As a kid, I played with chemistry-lab mercury, coating copper coins and he like. I probably liked my fingers a lot.

Now that I'm an adult, I realize that it was the ingestion of mercury that ultimately enabled me to converse about mathematics and chess with women.

Jake said...

First the government takes draconian measures to remove mercury from our environment. Now it is taking draconian measures to widely disperse mercury into our environment.

More proof that environmentalists and the politicians that support them are a hazard to Mother Earth.

vbspurs said...

This whole story reminds me of the R12-based air conditioners saga. There was a freon panic then, and there might be another fluorescent bulb panic now.

Let's not forget that January 1st of next year, all those of you will rabbit ears on your television sets will be SOL.

I'm genuinely surprised there hasn't been more outcry/PSAs about that.

How about seniors who haven't got a clue? Even my handyman hadn't a clue when I told him. He's got basic cable now.

Fluorescent bulbs are murder on a woman's face. I shall not miss them.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Double-checked. Date: April 7, 2009

rhhardin said...

Mercury weighs a lot, so it's not as much mercury as it sounds like.

Part of the introductory deal was that the mercury not released into the environment by power plants running incandescent bulbs exceeds the mercury introduced by throwing CFL's out, so you're ahead of the deal. That won't stop them from regulating you anyway though.

I wrap my burnt-out CFL's in lead foil and throw them out in the trash.

bearbee said...

I'm genuinely surprised there hasn't been more outcry/PSAs about that.

Tons of PSAs in my area including info on available government coupons.

My concern is that HD will happen in the middle of a recession. I guess those rebates willl help to purchase converter boxes.

rhhardin said...

You could of course stop watching TV and just use the set for playing chess with your Vic 20.

bearbee said...

re: lead foil, is that similar to aluminum foil and easily wrapped? Doen't the lead create pollution/leaching problems?

vbspurs said...

Bearbee, thanks! Whenever I mention this people cite the coupon, etc. but when I mention this to some older people I know, they are unaware of it.

And this is Florida, the land of retirees. I'm going to concentrate to see if those PSAs are as ubiquitous, as they apparently are elsewhere.

Cheers,
Victoria

john said...

Ann, one doesnt need to be a lawyer to mis-read "2 tons" as "200 tons". But hey, even if two tons were the correct number (it isnt), why not extend this silly math game to something potentially more useful:

Assume:

- amount of electricity gnerated used for incandescent lights = 20%

- amount of electricity used for flourescent lights = 5% (guessing here)

- mass of mercury emitted from coal fired power plants = 48 tons/year

The potential savings in mercury emmissions by switching to flourescent = 7.2 tons per year.

Also, the amount of mercury in a bulb is going down, and is only 1 milligram in some. That could mean only 400 pounds of mercury in those 380 million bulbs. That amount of mercury would fill a little more than half of a 5 gallon bucket.

While Dr U of Cincinnatii "environmental professor" could have focused on this, a much better story is to gin up something that will create more angst and guilt.

Get a good nights sleep tonight and dont worry about getting poisoned by mercury. You should be more worried about the verbal poison being spouted by the academic and journalism sectors.

john said...

Just in case you all think I have no concern about the health effects of mercury, parents, please heed the following:

Do not let your children play in or near that 5-gallon bucket.

steven said...

The same can be said of the disposal of the batteries in hybrid cars. I have read about them being extremely poisonous. So where do we dispose of them?

Trooper York said...

"The same can be said of the disposal of the batteries in hybrid cars. I have read about them being extremely poisonous. So where do we dispose of them?"

Mail them to Ed Begley Jr.

AJ Lynch said...

Warning devices in trash trucks to detect illicit disposal of flouresent lights?

Oooh that could be fun times. I will have to sneak my old bulbs into my neighbors' trash.

(Anyone else ever mis-type yahoo as Yah Ho? )

Trooper York said...

I once mistyped it as Yoohoo and got a nasty note from Yogi Berra.

But I sold it on E-bay so it all worked out in the end.

Trooper York said...
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Trooper York said...
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AJ Lynch said...

I have been thinking about stockpiling regular lights bulbs. I wonder if I should make that part of my retirement portfolio.

There will be a nice profitable black market for the old bulbs huh?

AJ Lynch said...

And how is Boo Boo Trooper? Did Yogi say?

Trooper York said...

That's Yogie Berra. One is a fictional character and the other lives in Jellystone Park. Sharpen up.

Trooper York said...

Although Yogi Bear does drive a hybird car.

Christy said...

George, the first CFL I bought about 7 or 8 years ago is still burning, even as I speak. It is in my post lamp and I always forget to turn it off (and never got around to installing the timer.) Regular bulbs lasted 6 to 9 months under those conditions. I'm pretty sure I'm growing a race of super spiders in there. Think about it, web encasing the light which draws in those delicious bugs.

You all do know that if you have an old house with old fashioned florescent fixtures (pre-1978) you have PCBs in the house?

Larry said...

I pitch them in the trash. Like do the tubes. Like everybody has been doing with the tubes for years--going back to when they had (I think) beryllium in them too.

But the little CFL's will soon cease to be a problem here.

I can't afford the flashlight batteries for the flashlights you need to see if they are on.

And they don't last very long in the enclosed fixtures the hous is full-of.

By the way "dimming" incandescent doesn't save all that much--the dimmer uses up a lot of the power.

And has a better potential to set your house on fire.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Government stupidity knows no bounds.

Fees for too much trash = illegal dumping in the woods or stockpiling of trash in backyards or basements. We already have enough of that thank you.

No recycling for hazardous mercury light bulbs = see above, and bulbs in the trash. There are no, zero, nada, zippo recycling drop off areas in my part of rural America. The closest is 75 miles away. Am I going to drive 150 miles in 105 degree heat (as it was yesterday) at $4.07 a gallon for regular gasoline for the privilege of disposing of bulbs, paper, cans etc so I can feel "green" and "save energy"..ha ha. Fuck no!!

California's new nanny law of phasing out incandescent bulbs= I'm stockpiling the bulb I want to use because like Ann I find the fluorescent light obnoxious and gives me a headache. What are they going to do? Have the light bulb brown shirts break into my house to make sure I'm not using an incandescent bulb in my bedside reading lamp? Brown shirt light bulb nazi, meet my sawed off Mossberg 12 guage.

Like I said. I want to lob some of these bulbs at the pointy heads of eco nuts. Ooooooh. Dangerous? Too bad. You want to force me to have them in my house. Here.....have another one.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm stockpiling incandescents, and I know others who are.

Trooper York said...

I thought we were supposed to elect all the dim blubs to Congress?

rhhardin said...

I see tungsten farms in Columbia feeding the illegal bulb trade.

ricpic said...

There's nothing more depressing than a 40 watt bulb in the bathroom.

Trooper York said...

What ever happened to James Watt?

Will said...

I'd like to thank John for putting the whole Hg thing into perspective.
As for disposal, I haven't had any burn out either, but when they do I'll take them to my county's Solid Waste Program (pdf link), and drop them off.
It's not quite as easy as chucking them in the garbage can, but it's not overly difficult either.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"There's nothing more depressing than a 40 watt bulb in the bathroom."

And there is nothing worse than trying to put on make up under a fluorescent bulb. Ghastly

kimsch said...

Digital TV ≠ HD. If one has satellite or can receive the higher numbers on the cable system, one generally will not need the converter box to get the digital channels next year.

I have only one TV, a 30 year old 13 inch RCA that needs a converter. I've already bought it though, years ago, to play DVDs on and watch satellite...

vbspurs said...

And there is nothing worse than trying to put on make up under a fluorescent bulb. Ghastly.

I remember my mum having one of these on her boudoir in the late 70s, though.

It looked creepy to me.

Cheers,
Victoria

jimbino said...

Wow,

Lots of ignorance and misinformation is being shared here. I guess that's what maintains Amerika and its wars.

Larry opines that "dimming" incandescent doesn't save all that much--the dimmer uses up a lot of the power.

Of course he's wrong: dimmers use triacs firing ON and OFF every half-cycle (at 120 Hz) to control the firing of an incandescent lamp. They use very little energy, since when they are ON, the voltage drop across them is only about a volt and when they are OFF, they pass no current. Power is a product of voltage and current, and when either is zero, or close to it, very little power is consumed.

The problem with dimmers is that they, like the new fluorescents, broadcast high-frequency radiation, interfering with AM and shortwave radios, especially.

Almost all the light that either type of lamp or the dimmer produces is converted to heat within the room being illuminated, meaning that folks are wise to use cheaper incandescents in the Amerikan winter, replacing them with more expensive fluorescents in the summer.

Indeed, anyone who heats his house electrically can dispense with baseboard heaters and install incandescents (including the infrared type) with no loss of efficiency. In bathrooms, he may even gain comfort, since lots of bathrooms are inefficiently heated by overhead "calrods."

Do you know that there are almost no lawyers in the country, including Hillary and Obama and those of the Supreme Court (except for Breyer) who have the math or science to begin to understand the physics behind this?

Hoard your pistols, transfats, pills, rubbers, incandescents and old Playboys: the ignoramuses of the gummint are coming!

bearbee said...

What are they going to do? Have the Have the light bulb brown shirts break into my house to make sure I'm not using an incandescent bulb in my bedside reading lamp?

We haf vays Fraulein.......

Your dim bulb at work.

Too bad they can't get to work and address peak oil and the looming energy crisis.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Plus, Jimbimo....in the winter fluorescent bulbs do not light in a timely manner IF at all when the temperature is below freezing. You must have incandescent outside or in unheated outbuildings.

People in this area have pump houses and use a 40 watt bulb positioned low in the room to keep the pipes from freezing at the well head. Try that with a fluorescent bulb. The other alternative is to use a much less energy efficient and more expensive pump house electric heater.

We built our house to be solar efficent with sky lights and solar heat contribution and panels for the hot tub. We rarely have to turn on a light fixture during the day except in the kitchen (which is fluorescent ceiling recessed lighting) The house is "zone heated" so we need only use energy in the rooms we are using.We did this all on our little ole lonesome without the government prodding us. I think that I can figure out which kind of light bulb best suits my lifestyle.

Will said...

If you want me to take your comments seriously, don't keep typing "Amerika." It's extremely childish.

Larry said...

And of course I am not wrong--as shown later in the same commnet:


"The problem with dimmers is that
they, like the new fluorescents,
broadcast high-frequency
radiation, interfering with AM
and shortwave radios, especially."

The part of high-school physics you slept through mentioned that "radiation" involves transmitting energy. No dimmer, less wasted energy being radiated.

And take one of them apart. Note that the triac is in a heatsink. why do you suppose that is?

blake said...

kimsch--

I do believe you're wrong about getting digital channels.

There's a confusion here which Victoria expresses (inadvertently, I think) when she talks about the rabbit ears.

The antenna will catch whatever signals are out there, analog or digital. However, in order to render that signal into a picture, you need a tuner, and analog and digital tuners are different.

Actually, even if the tuners are the same (something I'm not sure of now that I think about it), an analog TV needs an analog signal. The digital signal that the antenna receives will need to be converted.

It works both ways, except that digital TVs must have built-in analog->digital converters for backwards compatibility.

blake said...

Lord knows we don't need any extra heat here (98 degrees now) but I've found the CFLs burn out at least as fast as the incandescents.

The wiring in the house is old, though, I wonder if there's a factor in there.

kimsch said...

Blake, if you are watching satellite, you are watching digital. All satellite (DirecTV, Dish, etc.) is digital only. Cable has both analog and digital channels, and if you can see the digital channels your cable system offers, then you are okay as well.

My 30 year old RCA set didn't even have a coax or RCA connectors, just the "rabbit ear" connections, the little U shaped connectors that you hook around a screw. I won't be able to receive digital over the rabbit ears on that set, but with the digital converter I can watch satellite and DVDs and play video games other than Pong, Space Invaders, or Donkey Kong...

blake said...

Blake, if you are watching satellite, you are watching digital. All satellite (DirecTV, Dish, etc.) is digital only.

Yes, but you're watching it through a set-top box that converts it to analog.

Cable has both analog and digital channels, and if you can see the digital channels your cable system offers, then you are okay as well.

That's because (unless you're hooked up through the VGA, DVI or HDMI port) the box is converting it to analog.

It hardly matters unless you plan to go to digital OTA and drop your sattelite or cable (or fiber, etc.) provider.

Which, you know, some people might. The picture is much better than analog (generally) and you got more channels. Plus, you know, free.

I have cable, but I'm probably getting a converter for the TV because I may switch to other means of receiving broadcasts in the future. And besides, it's my tax money....

My 30 year old RCA set didn't even have a coax or RCA connectors, just the "rabbit ear" connections, the little U shaped connectors that you hook around a screw.

I remember those well.

I won't be able to receive digital over the rabbit ears on that set, but with the digital converter I can watch satellite and DVDs and play video games other than Pong, Space Invaders, or Donkey Kong...

Actually, if you hooked up the rabbit ears to the converter box, you should be able to get the digital OTA channels, too.

That's what they're for!

David said...

I doubt that this will stop with lightbulbs.

The nameplate on my electric oven says it draws 8 kilowatts. That's presumably the peak as it cycles on and off, so the average draw is probably something like 4KW. That's equivalent to *forty* 100-watt incandescent bulbs.

Microwaves use much less power--1KW or so, and they use it for a lot less time.

Why should the aesthetics of taste be privileged over the aesthetics of vision?

Ralph said...

The Republicans are fools if they don't make this a campaign issue--but they didn't with the 1.6gal toilet. They should go door to door giving everyone a free CFL bulb to get mad about. I would think household light energy usage would be a drop in the bucket.

One of my favorite jokes:
How many Southerners does it take to change a light bulb?
Four--one to change the bulb, three to talk about how good the old one was.

jimbino said...

DustBunnyQueen, you are right on. Even in Texas, where we have mild winters, my standard 8-ft fluorescents in the garage don't light properly, and the ones in the bathroom take about a minute to fire up.

Larry, of course, holds a patent in idiocy. I hold a patent in the technology: number 4087702. Check it out Larry idiot.

Larry said...

Some people know what they are talking about, some don't.

The latter group can be identified in several ways. For some, the clue is the Obama lapel pin, for some the ad hominem attacks and schoolyard name calling.

jimbino said...

And stay tuned:

Fascist idiots like Larry will not win because:

First: most any simple shop can learn to make incandescents. Edison did it with carbonized string!

Second: we physicists also have learned to mistrust the gummint and deliver high explosives.

Third: Like Von Braun, we physicists who don't like our gummint policies learn to work in another language.

God damn Amerika!

losergrrl said...

Professor Althouse: You know that the Catholic Church has always stood for a via media between pure laissez-faire capitalism and total control by the state.

In difficult matters such as balancing our responsibility for God's creation and making sure our makeup doesn't look like yesterday's whitewash under an arc light, the Sisters of St. Cathode ask that you cover yourself with filaments and take pains to make yourself fully incandescent each evening.

Thus each of us may, by the intercession of St. Cathode, do our part for the illumination of the world.

Victoria, as a good Catholic, has already agreed to glow, and I'm sure many of those who are concerned with our environmental stewardship will agree to do their part as well.

Ger said...

"Why don't you care about the mercury?"

Cuz I'm not a hippy!!

Only hippies care about clean air, clean water, recycling, etc.

Stupid damn annoying hippies.

kimsch said...

Yes, but you're watching it through a set-top box that converts it to analog.

and that's what I'm saying. You don't need to worry about getting a converter or a coupon if you already have it via satellite, cable or a previous converter box purchase. In fact, I'm SOL on the converter box. I don't get the $40 coupon!

There are people, however, who think HD and digital are one and the same and, of course, they're not.

blake said...

There are people, however, who think HD and digital are one and the same and, of course, they're not.

You're absolutely right there. High-definition could be delivered over analog as well. but TBTB don't want that.

Digital they can control. Analog, not so much.

kimsch said...

a $40 coupon towards an HD TV would be pocket change too... The $40 coupon towards a converter box should cover 75-90% of the price... If only one could get an HD-LCD or Plasma for that little...

Sofa King said...

High-definition could be delivered over analog as well. but TBTB don't want that.

Digital they can control. Analog, not so much.


What? It has almost nothing to do with control and everything to do with decreasing spectrum use. HD could theoretically be broadcast analog, but it would require a lot more of the electromagnetic spectrum; spectrum that could be better used for other purposes.

Humans have had the warm yellow glow of the sun and of camp fires for 100,000 years. I find that the colorless white of fluorescent bulbs don't comfort me at night.
Believe it or not, but it's the the cool-white CFL bulbs that come closest to approximating the color of daytime sunlight.

blake said...

a $40 coupon towards an HD TV would be pocket change too... The $40 coupon towards a converter box should cover 75-90% of the price... If only one could get an HD-LCD or Plasma for that little...

Give it time.


Digital they can control. Analog, not so much.

What? It has almost nothing to do with control and everything to do with decreasing spectrum use. HD could theoretically be broadcast analog, but it would require a lot more of the electromagnetic spectrum; spectrum that could be better used for other purposes.

True for transmission.

But the media giants want to--and have successfully, I think--conflated digital with quality.

I have a HD analog tube TV; it can display a picture as good as any digital TV (and better than many, because CRTs don't have the ghosting issues some LCDs have, e.g.).

But the higher quality signals "require" HDCP compliant devices. And control is exactly and only what HDCP's all about.

I can go into incredibly tedious detail about this. :-) I mean, come to think of it, I probably already have. But I mean EVEN MORE!

kimsch said...

Give it time.

By the time a nice big (40+ inch) HD LCD or Plasma comes around at $40 or a price that $40 makes a big enough dent in, I'll be either 6 feet under or spread across the mountaintops or in space...

blake said...

Geeze, kimsch, how old are ya?

Granted, I've been waitin' 10 years for them, but OLEDs have the prospect of being very good, very big and very cheap.

I picked up a 32" LCD the other day (for work reasons, I swear!) and it was $600. Five years ago it would've been $6000!*

So, it's only logical that five years from now, it'll be $60!

*Warning: Numbers conmpletely fabricated. Except I really did buy a $600 32" LCD (for work, I swear!).

losergrrl said...

Believe it or not, but it's the the cool-white CFL bulbs that come closest to approximating the color of daytime sunlight.

But dear Mr Sofa King, that would presume one cares about or has even seen the colour of daytime sunlight.

What's next?  Physical jerks before the view screen at 6 in the morning? I presume it will be a digital view screen.

al said...

I hold a patent in the technology: number 4087702. Check it out Larry idiot.

I'm not Larry or an idiot. The patent was interesting reading. I haven't touched electronics in a long time and most of the patent still made sense. Very cool stuff.

OTOH the "Amerika" tag makes it really hard to take you seriously.

Methadras said...

Ann,

How much more poignant could your label for this entry could have been:

Labels: environmentalism, stupid

Hammer, meet nail.

Michael McNeil said...

Ann wrote:
Me too. It's obvious that much of those 200 tons is going to go into ordinary waste dumps every year. [CORRECTION: 2 tons.]

I hate fluorescent bulbs anyway, for aesthetic reasons. I'm willing to save energy by turning off or dimming more lights. But maybe you don't feel the aesthetic problem and you don't care about my trivial suffering. Why don't you care about the mercury?


I'm one of those Californians who switched en masse to fluorescents during the state's energy crisis a few years back, so I've accumulated a bit of experience in this regard. While it's possible that my aesthetic sense is defective, in my view (presuming one purchases specifically “soft white” as opposed to the more traditional bluish white fluorescents, which are widely available these days) many of the available fluorescents don't produce aesthetically bad light. “Instant on” fluorescents are also available which come to full light virtually instantly, so there's no warm-up period. Glenn Reynolds I notice has also shopped around and reports considerable variation in quality of light from his perspective. Though some have burned out before their advertised super lifespan, in my experience, many others have lasted for years. I like them.

I do care about mercury (indeed, as a scientific-minded child I ignorantly played with liquid mercury, luckily escaping — I think — serious injury as a result) — but I also care about reason, and appeals to emotion (as these kinds of arguments do) are not reasonable, particularly insofar as they ignore important context.

What context is being ignored? I'm certainly no expert on mercury, but the arguments here — as in similar cases, such as depleted uranium (about which I've written, producing one of my rare Instalanches), in addition to other flaws, suffer from a complete lack of appreciation of the prevalence of the natural material (mercury, uranium) in the environment. In the light of this, I suspect that “2 tons” of mercury entering waste dumps every year (most of which, I think, wouldn't enter the general environment, at least not for a long time, but let's assume that it does) is a small amount compared to natural sources.

What are those sources? Once again, I'm no expert, but (while recognizing that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing) a modicum of research expeditiously produces facts, such as:

1) Mercury is prevalent in the environment of the Earth's crust in an average proportion of 0.08 grams per ton (0.08 parts per million). (Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica.) There are lots of tons of rock in the world (weight of the planet: 5.98 x 10^21 metric tons, which implies something on the order of ∼5 x 10^14 tons, or 500,000 gigatons, of mercury — yes, I recognize that the proportion is very likely different, perhaps greater, down in the Earth's core).

2) Mercury occurs (according to Britannica) in 25 different ores, but its principal compound is mercuric sulfide, which makes up the mineral cinnabar (and resulting pigment vermilion), primarily found in volcanic rocks and hot springs deposits — which also occur in great abundance around in the world.

3) The mercury in cinnabar is poorly attached (mineral cinnabar oftentimes even glistens with droplets of metallic mercury, as this datasheet points out), and relatively small amounts of heat (not uncommon from time to time in volcanic areas) can either drive the mercury into metallic and thence into vapor form, or into the guise of mercuric oxides, soluble in even relatively mild acids — such as gastric acid.

Thus, it seems to me, natural mercury must enter the environment (in hazardous chemical form) in the quantity (I suspect) of quite a number of tons every year. It would be nice to encounter a good scientific estimate (which I haven't found thus far) for how much that's likely to be. One could say, “Well, one shouldn't add to it,” but depending on the absolute quantity, beyond a certain point the contribution by fluorescent bulbs say is probably negligible, and 2 tons sounds like it's likely down amongst the noise.

Middle Class Guy said...

Ann Althouse said...
I'm stockpiling incandescents, and I know others who are.


So am I. The light from CFLs made the expensive paint in my home a putrid color. Now I only use the incandescents. The light is warmer, the paint looks like it is supposed to, and since I have some dimmer switches there is no problem. CFLs flicker with dimmers. Every time I go to the hardware or big box home improvement store I buy incandescents.

Oh, and if some think it is selfish, too bad. It is MY home and I plan to enjoy it. You can do whatever you like in your own home.

Michael McNeil said...

You can have a big pile of my old incandescent castoffs, which fill a whole cupboard.

John Burgess said...

I've been using CVS's 'RTH' (Round the House) brand of CFLs for the past couple of years. I find the light to be, as advertised, 'soft white'. I have absolutely no complaints about the quality of the light except for some photographs.

So far, I've replaced all incandescents except those with fixtures that don't work with the bulbs, i.e., a couple of overheads. I'm getting 100W of light for 28W of juice. Works fine for me.

I do think there's more than a little hysteria about mercury. As Michael McNeil writes, there's a massive amount of naturally occurring mercury in the environment. Sometimes it can be excessive.

But elemental mercury is nowhere near as dangerous as most people seem to believe.

I, too, played with mercury as a kid--one of the neighborhood kid's father was a dentist. We'd play with it by the pound, in all sorts of inventive ways--mercuric fulminate was fun!

Oddly enough, none of us died. All of us when on to university. None ended up in the asylum. Even the kid whose father had his dental lab in the house apparently suffered no ill effects from his close proximity. Nor did his siblings.

Yes, mercury can, in particular circumstances, be very dangerous. Minamata Disease is not an urban legend. But neither is it the monster lurking under every child's bed.

If you're pregnant, keep your distance for the sake of your unborn child. If you've managed to reach 10 years of age, you probably don't have to worry much about mercury.

John Burgess said...

Forgot to note that those CVS CFLs have a guaranteed 7-year life.

Ann Althouse said...

I played with mercury when I was a child too. The dentist gave it to me in a little paper cup. It was a lot of fun! Liquid, but not wet. You could pour it out and it would shatter into hundreds of tiny silver balls, which you'd scoop together into a shiny pool that you could push around.

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

I bought a pack of 4 CFL floodlights from Costco. One burned out within a week and another 2 lasted about two weeks. Not much of a savings there. Unfortunately, I'd disposed of the packaging so no chance of a refund. The light quality was incredibly poor as well. I'll stick with GE Reveal until someone comes up with something similar.

I put the dead ones into fixtures I never use, thus solving the environmental hazard problem for the moment.

Kevin said...

No problem -- you just need to safely contain the mercury before discarding it. So what I do, I stick the dead bulb in an old hydraulic fluid container, and chuck it over the fence.

pettyfog said...

The ignorance on here is amazing.

CFL's work great - last long time IF you dont switch them on and off all the time. Also the ones with the bad 'color' are the cheaper ones just for light. daylight typically cost more but deliver good color for makeup {Wife had same complaint}

The mercury in CFL is a powder, thus more dangerous than 'liquid' mercury, because it can be breathed. still not all THAT hazardous.. just treat it like it was bug poison.

Electronic dimmers DO waste energy vs full power. Not only do they put off heat, but a bulb run at lower voltage does not put out same ratio heat to light.

If you have basic cable w/o cable box you need do NOTHING in Feb 2009, the cable company will convert the signal for you.

There's a PSA on DTV right now.. theyre all over the place. The converter box will only convert over the air std scan (480p)channels to analog, not HD ones. It's a one-time buy and cost with coupon might be 30 bucks.

Current channels 2-6 go away. as do UHF channels 60 and up
Also, with DTV you will probably have MORE channels locally than you have now. In my area, Dayton, there are now about ten commercial DTV channels and the two PBS stations now broadcast 6 different program feeds on 8 channels including the two HD.
So, yes, there will be more channels in less 'spectrum space'
But channel numbering/nomenclature changes.

Nicholas said...

The part of high-school physics you slept through mentioned that "radiation" involves transmitting energy. No dimmer, less wasted energy being radiated.

And take one of them apart. Note that the triac is in a heatsink. why do you suppose that is?


Lots of ignorance on display here. A TRIAC-based dimmer is not a linear regulator. It will create some waste heat as a TRIAC is not 100% efficient (it has voltage loss when on and leakage current when off) but what the TRIAC does is "chop" the AC wave so that power is only flowing for some part of the cycle. Firstly, while this will generate higher frequency harmonics, usually it's running at double mains frequency (100 or 120Hz depending on where you live) while fluorescents tend to operate at 1000Hz+. You can hear this by running a fluorescent light near to some unshielded high gain audio signal wires like I did yesterday, and hear the frequency that it causes to be amplified.

So anyway, while a TRIAC based dimmer is going to generate some waste heat (hence the heat sink), a bulb set on 50% brightness via a dimmer will actually use significantly less energy than an undimmed bulb. Of course you also have to keep in mind a dimmer bulb is running at a lower temperature and thus I suspect more of its output spectrum is in infra-red than usual. So I would guess it might use about 2/3 the total energy to deliver half the light.

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

The ignorance on here is amazing.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Palladian said...

"Believe it or not, but it's the the cool-white CFL bulbs that come closest to approximating the color of daytime sunlight."

Believe it or not, color temperature is not the only factor governing the aesthetics of lighting. The main problem with fluorescents is that the light is not "constant". There is a "flicker" caused by the high frequency pulses of electricity that cause the fluorescence inside the tube. I believe that it's this that really disturbs those of us sensitive to fluorescent lighting. My computer monitor drives my eyes crazy, as like all such displays it's lit by fluorescent light.

The other aesthetic problem with compact fluorescent bulbs is that they're hideous objects. I think the bare incandescent light bulb is a beautiful form and has been used frequently throughout the history of design as an aesthetic component of many objects and interiors. Imagine CFLs screwed into those fixtures.

Bare incandescent bulbs also play a part in the history of 20th century art, whether used by Philip Guston in numerous paintings, by Francis Bacon, Jasper Johns and even David Lynch.

I've taken a few photographs as examples of the aesthetic superiority of the incandescent bulb. I have a collection of lamps, several of which use the shape of the incandescent bulb as an integral part of the lamp's design. Here is a lamp called "Triedro" from the 1960s by Italian designer Joe Colombo that hangs on the wall over my dining table. The design specifies a half-silvered round incandescent bulb. And here is a photograph of the lamp with a CFL bulb screwed in it. Ugh.


Compare the aesthetic qualities of three different incandescent bulbs with a compact fluorescent bulb and the deficiencies of the CLF as an object (ignoring its other deficiencies) should be obvious to anyone.

Of course, sanctimonious environmentalists have no aesthetic sensibilities so this comment may be in vain.

This may seem like a trivial matter, but in its essence it's a perfect example of the difference between control and freedom. Freedom gives you the ability to make choices: if you don't care about the aesthetic differences between incandescent bulbs and CFLs or other kinds of lighting, and think CFLs are just fine, then by all means, use them. If you're like me and the difference is great, choose incandescents. But, of course, we continue to sacrifice freedom. Now, the State will make the decision for you, because it assumes that you're either too stupid to make decisions on your own or (more probably) it knows you'll make the "wrong" decision. So the choice is taken away from you.

Tyranny does not always descent suddenly and violently. Sometimes it comes through years of erosion.

Randy (Internet Ronin) said...

This may seem like a trivial matter, but in its essence it's a perfect example of the difference between control and freedom.

True, but the "we know better" crowd is ascendent. As we've learned with corn-based ethanol, it doesn't matter if they're right, it is the right thing to do. That's all that is important. That, and the immense feeling of power that comes with it, of course.

Tyranny does not always descent suddenly and violently. Sometimes it comes through years of erosion.

"Salami tactics" is the phrase that comes to mind (from an episode of Yes, Prime Minister.) A slice here, a slice there. (Death by a thousand cuts, indeed.) We're headed in the same direction as the European Union, I guess. I read recently they put a small jam-maker in the UK out of business because he was not using the officially-approved sized bottle for his product.

Iapetus said...

How do I dispose of fluorescent bulbs? I don't, because I have none. My house has a lot of recessed lighting fixtures, installed at great expense about 10 years ago, which require floods and spots. I use incandescent bulbs, sparingly of course, and have not had one of them burn out since I had the lights installed. A month ago I spent a little more than $150 to buy a pair of spare bulbs for each fixture, which should last me 20 years or more. Keeping my fingers crossed, but I think I can say: Problem solved.

Kirk Parker said...

Larry,

OK, so you've seen a heatsink. Cool. Now find one that can dissipate 30W while fitting inside your switchbox and still keep to a temperature that won't set the wall on fire. I think you'll be looking for a while...

Cincinnatus said...

As far as aestetics go:

All I care is that the bulb has enough lumiens that I can point a spotlight at the ceiling or the walls and get a lot of light bouncing back. The shadows are so soft that they disappear three feet away from the owner. I can't go back to the old way of lighting my home, it looks like Film Noir to me. You probably think I'm picky, until you try it for yourself.

jdeeripper said...

I hate fluorescent bulbs anyway, for aesthetic reasons.

Lighting is everything. We don't see things, we see the light.

yclipse said...

Keep the burnt-out CFLs in a large coffee can. That will allow you to defer the issue for at least the next 10 bulbs or so.

Dorsai said...

Palladian:
Dear ghod, that's an ugly fixture!

The little spirally bulb does dress it up, though.

Dan said...

"Lots of ignorance and misinformation is being shared here. I guess that's what maintains Amerika and its wars."

When you start a post in such a stupid fashion, please don't expect anybody to read the rest of your screed.

Tibore said...

"It is in my post lamp and I always forget to turn it off (and never got around to installing the timer.) "

Christy, don't put a standard CFL on a timer. I found out the hard way that Timers/dimmers burn CFL's out way early.

http://www.pathnet.org/sp.asp?id=23506 (read the "CFLs and Dimmers?" section). Most timers use dimmer technology. The CFL I put in my door lamp didn't last a full month on the timer.

GE says they have a line specifically designed to get along with dimmers (GE's "Frequently Asked Questions - Compact Fluorescent (CFL)"). But I don't know how much the blasted things cost, since I haven't found any where I live yet.

Tibore said...

"Amerika"? Christ, man, that is so 1990's. You want to come up with a current insult?

Dan said...

A question that I don't think I've seen the answer to anywhere...where the heck does mercury even COME from? I mean, is there a mercury mine somewhere or something?

Seems like it would come somewhere from the environment. If it goes back to the environment, isn't that okay, as long as it isn't trapped somehow in our water supply/food chain?

babbleboy said...

IKEA takes them. Of course, driving to IKEA may use a lot of energy (unless you were going there anyway - swedish meatballs - mmmm). I have never had one of these burn out yet. The oldest one was installed during Clinton's second term.

Harold said...

CFL's don't last nearly as long as advertised. Especially the twisty ones. However, the light from the daylight ones is quite good. They're everywhere in my house.

But not for long. I have one 50W equivalent LED bulb from ebay (About $26.), with another one on the way. AS soon as I finish using them in all the places where I can use that lighting level, I'll start with the 100W LED equivalent. They're currently $96. each. As time goes on, the price will drop.

The early CFL's with magnetic ballasts were really horrible. It's been several years since they were last made. If they were your last experience with CFL's, try a newer on. Or just skip straight to LED's.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

A question that I don't think I've seen the answer to anywhere...where the heck does mercury even COME from? I mean, is there a mercury mine somewhere or something?


Almaden, California is one mine. We used to go there in elementry school for field trips to play with the mercury. It was very cool. Put it in your hand and smoosh it around. My brother loved it because he was into comics and super heros at the time. Mercury Man!! No one thought it dangerous and we all lived.

Michael McNeil said...

Ann wrote:
I played with mercury when I was a child too. The dentist gave it to me in a little paper cup. It was a lot of fun! Liquid, but not wet. You could pour it out and it would shatter into hundreds of tiny silver balls, which you'd scoop together into a shiny pool that you could push around.

I was pretty blase about it myself, both then and later — until I read this on a mailing list, from a fellow whose veracity and opinions I generally respect:

“I clearly remember how sick I got the day I put a ‘silver penny’ my brother made into my pocket and took it to school. I was about 9 or 10. Once there, I pulled it out to show my friends, and alas the silver was gone. Within a few hours I was really sick, with the shakes and cold sweats and all sorts of bizarre sensations. It lasted a few days, and the bluish spot on my thigh, where the metal had leached into my skin, lasted many months.

“I've often wondered if that episode had any bearing on my autoimmune and hearing issues, which worsened with time. I did have (and still have) a mouth full of amalgam. My autoimmune and hearing problems predated that incident, though. But it could very well be that they were exacerbated by the more acute exposures like that. Interestingly, I finally lost my hearing (woke up, stuck my hearing aid in my ear, whoops: nobody home) the day after my last amalgam filling. Haven't had one since and must admit to being rather phobic about dentists...”

That's a mere anecdote, while as the guy says, many of his problems were preexisting. However, the capability of the mercury to just sink into his skin, as he reports, and then the immediate sickness, are eye opening, I think. All of which would appear to make it not at all a good idea to let your kids play with it, at least not without some considerable control over the situation.

There's no doubt, though, that metallic mercury is much safer than mercury which has been incorporated into organic molecules. There was a tragic case about a dozen years back where a lab worker inadvertently spilled a tiny droplet of an organic mercury compound onto her latex glove (ignoring it, thinking the glove would protect her) — but within half a year she was in a coma, and months after, dead.

Paul Zrimsek said...

where the heck does mercury even COME from?

They drill for it like oil. Any science-fiction fan can tell you all about the famous Hg Wells.

Michael McNeil said...

Dan wrote:
A question that I don't think I've seen the answer to anywhere...where the heck does mercury even COME from? I mean, is there a mercury mine somewhere or something?

Here's a picture of the principal mercury ore: cinnabar (mercuric sulfide: HgS), from Nevada. The silvery glistening on it is actual tiny droplets of metallic mercury adhering to the ore. Take ground-up cinnabar, heat it with blasts of hot air to temperatures of about 300° C (570 F.), the sulfur combines with oxygen producing sulfur dioxide, thereupon one can condense the resulting metallic mercury vapor — and voila!

Michael McNeil said...

Paul: LOL!

pettyfog said...

Points made on here to clarify and commend:

Dimmers - Incandescent "2/3 the power for 1/2 the light" That's about what I remember from measuring it.

Dimmers on Fluorescent Only work by 'bending physics' or bulb design. Fluorescent work by 'firing the gas', and dimming them by firing it less frequently. It's either on or off, thus dimming will never work well.

LED - will be the king and is more efficient than CFL and far longer life - 50,000 hours minimum, independent of On/OFF paradigm. Wait just a short time, they'll be $12 for a 75 watt equiv; from China, natch. Fixtures may come with permanent non-replace 'bulbs'. AND be much more varied in aesthetics and form.

Not all timers/photo/proximity systems will shorten CFL life. Some use a relay, rather than a triac. The problem with Triac driving a CFL is it interferes with the triac driving the ballast. If you hear a 'click' it's probably relay driven. Then the problem is 'On Duration' shortening life.

Saving CFL in big can is good idea. Just dont break them to make more room. That would make the danger far worse than just tossing in trash.

therapydoc said...

There's a hybrid, actually, that's not florescent and takes awhile to light up (which is annoying) but it's ecofriendly and easy on the eyes. It's got a funny, squiggly shape, too, which makes for good conversation starters.

pettyfog said...

Blake:
But the media giants want to--and have successfully, I think--conflated digital with quality.

I have a HD analog tube TV; it can display a picture as good as any digital TV (and better than many, because CRTs don't have the ghosting issues some LCDs have, e.g.).


USDA Grade A Prime HORSESHIT! Notice he said "CAN Display"? SOME LCD's?

'ANALOG' in the REAL World, not some Lab or premium set-up where you use products from Monster Cable, is the de facto environment for 'Ghosting'!

And vinyl is better than CD because it's 'warmer' Just like Vac Tubes are better than solid state.

I'm 65 years old... oh did I mention old cars are built better than new ones? NOT!



I can go into incredibly tedious detail about this. :-) I mean, come to think of it, I probably already have. But I mean EVEN MORE!


Yeah you could but it would smell even more.

Joe said...

In addition to flicker, by their nature flourescents create harsher light. Most are also heavy in the green part of the light spectrum. As they age, they dim, sometimes quite drastically.

Because the CFL tubes are wrapped in on themselves and due to the coatings they use, they do not really offer 4x the light per watt as incandescents. My own experience is that its about 3x the light.

Another problem with CFLs is that most cannot be installed base up and many can't be safely installed sideways.

I've tried CFLs and all have failed within three months, thought the quality of light became unacceptable after less than that.

In the end, just like some people are willing to pay more to keep their house really cold in the summer, I'm willing to pay a little more to use incandescents. (I've done the calculations and due to my small house and low cost of electricity, CFLs won't actually pay for themselves.)

blake said...

Pettyfog,

You tipped your hand by deriding vinyl. Vinyl delivers a factually higher quality sound than a CD. Now, most people don't care, and in fact care so little that they'll take a degraded MP3 over a WAV. But the facts are the facts.

You're a goof, a rube, and possibly a troll.

former law student said...

In my actual use tests, the twisty CFLs are fragile and break easily, thus liberating mercury in my living environment. I haven't had a mercury thermometer since the early 80s; mercury switches are more or less banned -- there's no reason for me to have mercury in my home.

I liked the Panasonic CFLs that were securely encapsulated in plastic. The one went out in my garage (no shop lights) so I will have to replace it if I can find another one. It has lasted four years of extremely intermittent use.

Plus fluorescent lights can cause unneeded excitement:

I bought a GE 3-way fluorescent tube array for a floor lamp: In what apparently is a common end-of-life occurrence for these things, the ballast charred and emitted a thick black smoke. My wife fearing that our living room would go up in flames, quickly pulled the plug and carried the lamp outside. This has never happened to us in decades of incandescent bulbs.

former law student said...

Oh: I came home and wondered out loud: "Why is our floor lamp out on the patio?" "Because I thought it was on fire."

Revenant said...

Vinyl delivers a factually higher quality sound than a CD.

There's nothing "factual" about that claim, unless you're talking about the earlier CDs that didn't cover the full range of human hearing.

former law student said...

Vinyl delivers a factually higher quality sound than a CD.

There's nothing "factual" about that claim, unless you're talking about the earlier CDs that didn't cover the full range of human hearing.


Earlier CDs? The (audio) CD standard was released in 1980. Its sampled and quantized audio occupied the video bandwidth of the analog LaserDisc. As a practical matter, then, the max sampling rate was set to some 44kHz. To prevent aliasing, the analog input had to be passed through a brickwall filter, here set at 22kHz (half the sampling rate, of course).

The trouble of course is that a brickwall filter creates phase distortion of signals far below its 22kHz cutoff -- well into the audible range, even for middle-aged folks -- as well as amplitude distortion from the ripple in the passband frequency response.

In contrast to the limitations of CDs digitized sound, as anyone familiar with the 70s flirtation with quadrophonic sound will recall, vinyl can reproduce up to 45kHz with ease, requiring only the gentlest of equalization filters.

Peter said...

I miss having mercury around. Nothing works better than a few cubic inches of mercury to clean the lead out of a pistol barrel.
Pour the mercury into the barrel, plug each end with a rubber stopper and roll it around, the lead amalgamates with the mercury and when you pour it back, the barrel is clean as a whistle. Plus you now have a mix of lead and mercury, a mix that will send any enviromentalist running, screaming for the tall grass.

losergrrl said...

It's true you got the best fidelity from those old quadraphonic light bulbs from the '70's.  Modern digital CFL's produce too much phase distortion, clipping, and a sound full of frizz with no center or warmth to the tone.  They produce a harsh, badly-coloured sound that many people just don't want coming from their lamps.

Theo Boehm said...

losergrrl: LOL!
Between this, your "St. Cathode" exchange with Victoria, and your profile, you seem a nicely weird addition to the commentariat here.

Are you in the UK, or are you an expat like Victoria and Simon? What Althouse chiefly needs to round out the Brit presence is odd British humour. Can you help us out here?

Michael_H said...

How am I disposing my fluorescent bulbs?

I'm feeding them to baby seals and to orca whales.

I hate those damn bulbs. The color is lousy, they're expensive and they conk out well before their advertised life, rendering them far more expensive the regular old incandescent bulbs. The stuff in the base of the bulb is every bit as toxic as the mercury in the bulb.

Johnny 5 said...

As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am constantly bombarded with questions about how much energy is actually being saved by using compact fluorescents and whether they live up to all of the hype that they receive. It seems to me that a lot of the negative things said about incandescent bulbs and their energy usage is borne out of a poor understanding of basic physics. The law of conservation of energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, just changed from one form to another. So many people speak of incandescent bulbs “wasting” energy as though they are defying the laws of physics and destroying energy. I live in a fairly cool climate and during the winter I use an electric heater to heat the particular room that I am in. If I use an incandescent bulb and 90% of its energy usage is for the production of heat, then it is simply generating heat that I would have to generate anyway with my 1000W heater. It’s June here and we are still dealing with cold and rainy weather, so there is a significant portion of the year where the heat energy produced by incandescent bulbs indoors is useful and not “wasted.” For me, it is an obvious choice given the mercury content and poor light quality that comes from compact fluorescents.

Krissy said...

Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

As to CFLs entering landfills, this could be avoided by recycling. The Home Depot announced its CFL recycling program yesterday (6/25). Since 80% of homes are with 10 miles of a local The Home Depot store recycling CFLs should no longer be an issue.

blake said...

Some folks might not appreciate the fact that they have to drive 10 miles to dispose of a bulb they did not want in the first place.

God save us from politicians fixing things.

sign said...

I use an incandescent light and 90% of its power utilization is for the of warm, then it is simply producing warm that I would have to produce anyway with my 1000W heating unit. It’s July here and we are still working with freezing and stormy climate, so there is a good part of the year where the warm power designed by incandescent lights in the house is useful and not “wasted.” For me, it is an apparent option given the mercury material and inadequate mild excellent that comes from lightweight fluorescents.

Reflective Vinyl

sign said...
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