CFLs aren’t perfect

The poster child of energy efficiency—the compact fluorescent lamp—isn’t entirely as innocent as it looks, according to some waste industry officials.

It’s true CFLs use roughly 50 percent less energy, last longer than incandescent bulbs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The problem is they still contain mercury, a neurotoxin that can cause kidney and brain damage. reporter Alex Johnson points out that “as long as the mercury is contained in the bulb, CFLs are perfectly safe.” But when they eventually burn out or break, many consumers are just dumping them in the trash.

If one breaks, the Environmental Protection Agency says you should air out the room for 15 minutes, wear gloves, double-bag the wreckage, and use duct tape to remove the residue from the carpet (not a vacuum cleaner, which would just spread it).

Recycling the bulbs seems like an obvious answer, but there aren’t many qualified places to recycle them. Johnson reports that “furniture store Ikea is the biggest recycler of fluorescent bulbs in the United States.”

Washoe County residents have not been able to recycle CFLs locally, but they will soon due to a pilot program between Waste Management and Sierra Pacific Power Company. Beginning April 1, they can recycle CFL bulbs (and only “pigtail” CFLs) at any Waste Management facility.

“We’ve done a lot of Earth Days over the last few years and distributed tens of thousands of CFLs,” says Eric Weldon, senior environmental scientist with Sierra Pacific Power. “One of the biggest questions has been, ‘What do we do with these at the end of their life?’ Saving the environment on one hand was creating an environmental problem on the other.”

So the program to give the bulbs a place to go was created.

Sierra Pacific Power will also be collecting CFL bulbs at its Earth Day tent on April 20 in Idlewild Park.