Selling a solution

I hate that ads sometimes use problems as sales tools. It seems that these days, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a global warming alarmist. To cash in, Walmart has set a goal of selling a hundred-million CFL bulbs in the United States, one for each of its regular customers.

Of course when one considers such large numbers, even a minuscule savings per bulb will add up to a significant amount of energy. Despite costing several times more than incandescent light bulbs, they use far less electricity and pay for themselves in a surprisingly short time. They also last ten times longer than incandescent light-bulbs.

All is not perfect in paradise, however. Unlike dirt-cheap incandescent bulbs, CFL bulbs contain mercury. We can’t simply put CFLs in the garbage because mercury is toxic. Does Walmart deign to mention this in their promotional material? Not on your life. Further, I did a quick search on their site, with this result:

Your search for:

mercury in Entire Site produced the following 0 results, sorted by relevance

I was hoping to discover they’d take back old CFLs, but all they’re doing at this point is ‘investigating’ a recycling program. With current CFLs each containing 5 mg of mercury, their 100,000,000 CFL goal will mean 2.5 tonnes of mercury going to the land fill unless people keen to do the right thing take extra care and dispose of the CFL properly after it burns out.

Yes, Walmart is working with their suppliers to reduce the amount of mercury used in each CFL, but the 1/3 reduction they’ve announced for CFLs coming later this year still each contain 3.5mg of mercury. The 1/3 reduction, while a great thing, still means 2/3 will go to the landfill unless the user disposes of the old CFL properly.

I checked the City of Ottawa web page and was happy to see both compact and regular fluorescent lights are now being accepted in the hazardous waste program. But really, how many people will make the effort to discover where the once-a-month hazardous waste deposit is being held this time, and make a special trip to drop off all the items they’ve collected since the last one? And all of this presupposes people know they’re not supposed to throw fluorescent lights in the garbage. Heck, most people still throw batteries in the garbage.

Be careful with them. They are fragile and can break. Should this unfortunate event occur, the United States Environmental Protection Agency suggests a few tips to keep in mind:

  1. Open a window and leave the room (restrict access) for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner.
    • Wear disposable rubber gloves, if available (do not use your bare hands).
    • Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard.
    • Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or disposable wet wipe.
    • Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.
  3. Place all cleanup materials in a plastic bag and seal it.
    • If your state permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the CFL in two plastic bags and put into the outside trash (if no other disposal or recycling options are available).
    • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.
  4. The first time you vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag once done cleaning the area (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag and/or vacuum debris, as well as the cleaning materials, in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

See? Why worry? Nothing to be concerned about!

I’ve taken to buying my CFLs at Ikea, because I was buying a lamp and the CFLs were prominently displayed. In addition to their accepting batteries for proper disposal, they also accept CFLs. I respect that they admit the most efficient lights have a down-side, and are willing to help minimize it. Further, they’ve been accepting old CFLs since 2001, which makes me think they’re doing it at least partly because it’s the right thing, and not just as a sales tool.

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