Do compact fluorescent bulbs reduce mercury pollution?

In places that rely heavily on coal for electricity, such as West Virginia or China, the researchers say switching to CFLs can reduce mercury emissions significantly. But cleaner-powered places like California and Norway would do better to stick to incandescent bulbs when it comes to reducing mercury. “The places known for sustainability are the places that have the potential to do the most harm by bringing this technology in,” says environmental engineer Julie Zimmerman of Yale, a coauthor of the study.

Do compact fluorescent bulbs reduce mercury pollution?.

The good news is that in general, CFLS reduce mercury emissions significantly compared to using regular bulbs in most cases. Very unfair on CFL mercury! This works if you assume that every mg of mercury in a CFL is going to be released into the air, which is bogus. They can be, and are recycled, or they end up being landfilled, where they will not escape for a while. I’ve never broken one in many years of use. This is not a fair comparison at all, and if you have to reach to California and Norway to make a point, you’ve lost it. The reason California and Norway (more about Norway in a later blog post) are more energy efficient is because they use more energy efficient systems (like CFLs) in the first place. Therefore, they do not have to rely on coal for energy requirements. Of course, they are also lucky to have hydroelectric/geothermal sources, but they avoid coal for good reason.

If you reduce power usage by increasing efficiency, you don’t have to build more power plants (clean or otherwise) and that is good for everyone concerned.

Yes, the take home message is that due to the presence of a hazardous ingredient, CFLs need to be viewed as a bridge technology to LEDs. Point taken, but given that they have all those advantages over regular light bulbs, this is no bridge to nowhere!

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