Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs: What About the Mercury?

A lot more work needs to be done before the compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) can be said to work. They are a great idea, yes. They save a lot of energy. Great. But almost no ones knows that they contain mercury, and can’t be thrown in the trash. The mercury will wind up in our landfills, and we will poison our earth and our groundwater.

Compact Fluorescent Bulb

Compact Fluorescent Bulb

The boxes they come in contain tiny print about the mercury, but offer no method of disposing the bulb. They tell you not to throw them in the trash. Ikea, who sells several varieties of these bulbs, tells you to bring them back to Ikea for disposal. Given that my closest Ikea is 30 miles from my house, I’m unlikely to use a gallon of gas to bring back one bulb.

I suspect most people will simply toss them in the trash. That’s what we do with burned out bulbs. I was at a celebration when a champagne cork broke a bulb. Two people at the party knew about the mercury, and no one believed us. The broken bulb was swept up and tossed in the trash. No one used tape to to pick up the tiny fragments from the rug, no one tried to separate the broken bulb from the rest of the trash that wound up in the alley dumpster.

The lightbulb companies need to start now, should have started before they introduced the bulbs, to educate the consumer. It might be easy to buy one kind of bulb instead of the other, it might even feel good to put up with the inconvenience of the older bulbs–slow lighting, unpleasant color–but no one cares about disposing of them.

Here’s a pdf with information of disposal.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer who has doubts about the experts who say that the amount of mercury won’t be a danger for many years. She remembers that the genome project scientists at first said that much of the DNA was “junk DNA” and only now, years later, are realizing that they missed some important information contained in the “junk.”