Rethink CFLs

With the provincial government pushing hard to have compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) replace those dastardly energy-eating (therefore non-green) incandescent bulbs by 2012, you might think Big Brother is leading us to a safer place.

There was tremendous hoopla circa 2004 when the CFLs were introduced to a wide-eyed public ready to do their bit to lower energy consumption on this planet.

Most homes are now adorned with those cute, swirly CFLs, but most of us don’t know what we have plugged into the electrical grid.

CFLs may use less energy than incandescent bulbs just like Big Brother told us. However, are we safe using them and, according to the first law of “greenness,” are CFLs safe for the environment when the bulbs are burned out?

When an energy-eating incandescent bulb burns out, the tungsten filament breaks, we toss it into the garbage and replace it. If it falls and breaks, we pick up the pieces of glass with our fingers and throw the bits into the garbage and replace the bulb.

It’s significantly different with a CFL because it contains mercury, which is considered a hazardous waste, and cleanup is close to being a HAZMAT operation.

So how safe is that for every household in the province to have plugged into the grid?

They cannot just be tossed into the garbage when they burn out, as they have to be taken to a collection depot – Century Hardware and TIM-BR Mart in 100 Mile House – and then they are picked up and trucked to a smelter in Trail for recycling.

Seems like there may be a bit of a large carbon footprint involved in that process, especially when every household is being forced to use CFLs.

Realistically, how many people are going to take the time to drop off a burnt-out CFL to a collection deport rather than toss it into a garbage can?

But, God forbid if one of those little CFLs falls and smashes on the rug, or explodes into a fiery ball, or gets a pinhole in it and spews out mercury vapours.

This is when you throw open the window, close off the room, grab your children and pets and leave your home. You don’t want to breathe those fumes at any cost.

Check out what Health Canada has to say about CFLs and the cleanup requirements.

Perhaps we need a sober second thought on this one.

Ken Alexander

Editor, 100 Mile House Free Press