Been thinking about changing some of your lights to compact fluorescent lamps? Worried about what to do if they break? This edition of In Our Back Yard explains the benefits of fluorescents and how they have to be handled just a little bit differently than the standard, incandescent lamps you are used to.
Only 10% of the energy consumed by an incandescent light bulb is in the form of light. The rest is wasted as heat. By contrast, fluorescent lamps use 75% less energy to produce the same amount of light. So fluorescent lamps offer huge energy and financial savings.
According to the US Department of Energy, if we all switched our five most-highly used light bulbs to compact fluorescents, we would save enough electricity to shut down 21 power plants—about 800 billion kilowatt-hours. That means a lot less carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides going into the air and causing problems like climate change, acid rain, and ozone. Not to mention the money we would save on our monthly electric bills. Try Efficiency Maine's website at efficiencymaine.com
Proper recycling of fluorescent bulbs
Do not throw fluorescent light bulbs in the trash. Maine law does not allow fluorescent bulbs, including CFLs, to be disposed of in the trash because they contain a small amount of mercury. And it's easy to recycle them for free in Maine. Check out recycling options at the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) website MaineDEP.com
What if I accidentally break a fluorescent bulb in my home?
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The next time you replace a lamp, consider putting a drop cloth on the floor while you replace the lamp so that any accidental breakage can be easily cleaned up. If there are very young children in your home or other sensitive populations, avoid the use of CFLs in area where they could be easily broken or in kids' bedrooms. Also get detailed instructions now, before you break a lamp. You can get these instructions from the DEP by clicking on "Fluorescent light bulb information" on the DEP website MaineDEP.com
Do not use a vacuum cleaner to clean up the breakage. This will spread the mercury vapor and dust throughout the area and could potentially contaminate the vacuum. Ventilate the area well by opening windows, and leave the area for 15 minutes before returning to begin the cleanup. Mercury vapor levels will be lower by then. Continue ventilating the room for several hours after the cleanup.
A little extra care will go a long way in preventing the nuisance of cleaning up a broken lamp.
This column was submitted by Maine Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management.