I noticed this CF disposal station at the Monoprix near Nation in the 11th arr in Paris. Monoprix is a big department store with clothing, household items, and a large grocery supermarket.
I wonder what happens once a bulb gets put in these bins?
Compact florescent (CF) bulbs have come under attack in recent years because they contain a small amount of mercury. Like many products of the industrial economy, they need to be properly disposed of when their useful life is over. The best system for “proper disposal” I have seen is the cradle-to-cradle concept of Mcdonough and Braungart, detailed in their book Cradle to Cradle:Remaking the Way We Make Things (essential reading for anyone in Sustainable Living). In a sustainable future, we need to eliminate the concept of waste. Without a cradle-to-cradle economy, we will often be stuck with “less bad” solutions rather than sustainable good solutions. For now, many products of the industrial economy are not designed with proper disposal in mind, and CF bulbs are a prime example.
While mercury of any kind is a concern for human health, it should be noted that the largest emitters of mercury are coal fired power plants. The coal burned to power an incandescent bulb puts more mercury into the environment than is contained in a CF bulb, so even if CF bulbs are improperly disposed of, they put less mercury into the environment than conventional bulbs in areas with coal generated electricity (Coal is used to generate 80% of the electricity in Iowa)
EPA florescent bulb clean up procedures are here: http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html
You can download a study from Europe on the web page above with a good discussion of the controversy surrounding mercury from CF bulbs. The study suggests that even though CF bulbs contain mercury, their use leads to significant reductions in mercury in the environment. Look for the link that begins “May 2010 opinion…..”
With many contemporary environmental dilemmas (Paper or Plastic?) encountered in daily life, there are no simple answers. There is great potential that CF bulbs will be replaced by LED bulbs in the near future, which have even lower energy use and no mercury. But my mother-in-law (belle-mere) here in France that she read “led lights are bad for you and can cause cancer……..” (sigh)
Relative energy use of various bulbs:
LED : 1
Personally, I use CF bulbs in my solar powered home. I am gradually changing them out for LED as quality improves and the cost comes down. From my review of the controversy, I have no reservations about recommending CF bulbs over incandescent bulbs, assuming you don’t want to go without electric lighting altogether.