Why More People Should Get Involved In Recycling Bulbs: Benefits More Than Just Protecting The Environment By Reducing Toxins 2021


Because of the sheer quantities of trash that modern humans produce, space in landfills is at a premium. This should be enough of a reason to recycle anything that can be, but there are additional considerations with light bulbs.

These important pieces of our modern lives can leech toxins into the ground and water, which can have potentially serious effects on human, animal and plant life.

CFLs And The Environment

People are recycling more than they were in the past. In 1997, the number of bulbs recycled was around 70 million. This increased to 156 million in 2003. However, increasing the prevalence of recycling is always important, because some light bulbs have toxic components. The 156 million bulbs recycled in 2003 kept approximately 5,720 pounds of mercury out of the environment.

Modern compact fluorescent bulbs or CFLs, are good for the environment while they are working. They require less energy, which means that electric companies can reduce the use of fossil fuels to produce energy.

However, they are potentially dangerous to the environment when they burn out and need to be gotten rid of. Each contains up to 5 milligrams of mercury, which is a dangerous environmental toxin.

Mercury As An Environmental Toxin

Mercury is an element, the only metal that is liquid at room temperature. It has many industrial and consumer applications, but it is toxic. Small amounts like those found in contaminated ground water can cause the metal to build up in predatory animals that are high up the food chain, such as fish.

Eating these fish can cause high mercury levels in humans and other animals. Mercury is especially dangerous to unborn children, who may experience effects at levels 5-10 times lower than those required for adults.

Regulations Regarding Recycling

There is no federal regulation requiring recycling of light bulbs, but some states do have regulations mandating it. However, there are a limited number of places to drop off the bulbs, and compliance is low. Some surveys show that as few as 2% of all CFLs are recycled when they burn out.

Mercury is not the only reason why bulbs should be recycled, though. All bulbs contain metal and glass that can be reused. The materials in modern bulbs of all kinds can be almost completely recycled, thus reducing the amount of waste put into the world’s landfills every year.

CFLs Versus Incandescents

Some people may wonder why incandescent bulbs, which contain no mercury, are being phased out if CFLs are so bad for the environment.

It turns out that while incandescent bulbs themselves contain no mercury, the process through which they are made releases mercury into the environment at a higher rate than the deposition of mercury-containing CFLs into landfills does. So, CFLs are still the better choice.

The main reason that incandescent lights are being phased out is that they are extremely inefficient. They convert only about 10% of the energy they use into light, wasting the rest as heat. Reducing the use of incandescent bulbs reduces greenhouse emissions from power plants.

How To Be Green With CFLs

Recycling their used CFLS is the best thing that people can do for the environment right now. Many Home Depot, Lowe’s and Ace Hardware stores serve as drop-off locations for used CFLs, even those not purchased at that store. The internet is a also a good resource for looking up places that can take your used CFLs for recycling.

Another expensive but environmentally sound idea is to purchase LED lights, which can burn for up to 25 years and contain no mercury, but may cost as much as $30 per bulb.

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