Using compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) is an effective way to reduce energy consumption and prevent greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.
CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs, last up to ten times longer and can save about $30 or more in electricity costs over each bulb’s lifetime.
The use of less electricity, in turn, puts less demand on power plants, thus reducing the amount of greenhouse gases, mercury, and other pollutants released into the air. Each CFL can prevent more than 450 pounds of emissions from a power plant over its operating life.
Using CFLs can also help to reduce cooling costs in your home. They emit about 75 percent less heat than traditional bulbs. About 90 percent of the energy emitted by incandescent bulbs is heat, compared with the 30 percent released by CFLs.
If every American home replaced just one light bulb with a CFL, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, reduce more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of more than 800,000 cars.
CFLs are available in different shapes and sizes to fit in almost any fixture, both indoors and outdoors. It is best to install CFLs in fixtures that are used at least 15 minutes at a time or several hours per day. These fixtures are usually found in the following areas of your home:
CFLs perform best in open fixtures that allow airflow, such as table and floor lamps, wall sconces and outdoor fixtures. Special CFLs can also be used in fixtures connected to dimmers or three-way sockets.
Be sure to choose a CFL that offers a shade of white light that works best for you. Most CFLs provide warm or soft white light, but you can also choose a cooler color for task lighting. To choose the CFL with the right amount of light, find a CFL that is labeled as equivalent to the incandescent bulb you are replacing.
Energy Star qualified CFLs are required to meet safety and performance criteria. Purchasing an Energy Star qualified CFL will ensure you are purchasing a reliable product.
Some homeowners may also base their decision about which CFL to purchase on mercury content. Most CFLs contain between 2 milligrams and 10 milligrams of mercury, about the size of the tip of a pen. The Interstate Mercury Education and Reduction Clearinghouse (IMERC) maintains a database of the amount of mercury in products. Although the data are provided in ranges, this information can still be helpful when deciding which CFL to purchase. To find the mercury content for a product, go to the IMERC on-line database and choose “Advanced Search” from the menu on the left-hand side of the page. Then choose “lamps” from the right-side column. Then choose the type of lamp for which you are seeking information, scroll down about ½ way and click on “Search”.
Though the amount of mercury in a CFL is relatively small, it is important to properly recycle used bulbs in order to recover the mercury contained in each one. Mercury is an essential component of CFLs and is what allows the bulb to be an efficient light source. No mercury is released when the bulbs are in use, and may only be potentially emitted if broken.
Do NOT throw CFLs away in your household garbage. This can lead to a release of mercury into the environment through breakage and leakage. It is recommended that consumers take advantage of available local recycling options for CFLs. The Agency is working with lamp manufacturers and major retailers to expand recycling and disposal options. Commonwealth Edison has set up free CFL recycling in its service areas. In addition, several private companies take CFLs from homeowners. Some have mail-in programs for a fee. Click one of the following links to find a CFL recycling option near you.
Households and consumers can often recycle mercury-containing bulbs by taking them to local household hazardous waste collection programs, which are usually organized by counties or local solid waste authorities. Please visit the Illinois EPA Household Hazardous Waste webpage for more information and local collection dates.
CFLs are made of glass and can break if dropped or roughly handled. Be careful when handling a bulb, and always screw and unscrew the bulb by its base (not the glass). Never forcefully twist a CFL into a light socket. In the event of breaking a CFL, you can clean it up through the following procedures:
The next time you replace a lamp, consider putting a drop cloth on the floor so that any accidental breakage can be easily cleaned up. If consumers remain concerned regarding safety, they may consider not utilizing fluorescent lamps in situations where they could easily be broken. Consumers may also consider avoiding CFL usage in bedrooms or carpeted areas frequented by infants, small children, or pregnant women. Finally, consider not storing too many used/spent lamps before recycling as that may increase your chances of breakage.