What’s Light Got To Do With It? A consideration on energy efficient lighting…

In my endeavor to learn more about environmental education, I’ve been reviewing lots of different topics that impact how we as individuals can conserve energy and precious resources.  My goal is to help facilitate people’s (present company included) transition to more holistic living when it comes to how we think about energy and resource use in this world.

Sometimes, we need more motivation to act, but problem-focused discussion can leave plenty folks feeling depleted.  So, many columns and how-to’s pinpoint the easy ways to go green.

Inevitably posted in the top 10 actions is “changing your light bulbs”.  That’s because, reportedly, lighting can suck up about one-third of the energy consumption in the US, or about 15% of the average household bill.  And with incandescent bulbs, about 90% of the energy used is “wasted” as heat…

With new technology, turns out light bulbs don’t have to get so hot.  Thespians, Pop-stars and Runway divas should all be super psyched to switch to cooler lights.

The solution of recent popular notoriety is CFL’s, compact florescent lights.  Now, one could swallow the pill and pray, or do some serious investigating.  My search has found plenty reason to put some speed bumps on the CFL highway.  While their energy and resource consumption seem to be truly more efficient than incandescents, CFL’s pose other under-studied health threats to workers and, possibly, some users.

Do CFL’s really use less energy than incandescent bulbs?   The answer I found was yes, even through the recycling process–mandatory for CFL use to be remotely sustainable–CFL’s appear to be the more “energy” efficient of the bulb types.   So that’s not necessarily my issue.

Regardless, my main concern is still the mercury involved in bulb production.  Because CFL’s contain mercury in a gas form (inside the bulb tubing), they can be leaked into the environment if a bulb breaks.  It may also stand a chance of getting leaked into you…

Or the workers who make them.  This is where my concerns arise.  Demand in “developed” nations is all too often marred with the debilitation of workers in transitional economies, like China.  In the case of CFL’s, there’s been word of worker and water poisoning stemming from CFL production to feed the EU market which has officially banned incandescent bulbs.

ASIDE:  Okay, now if you look deeply into the Times publishing company that I referred to with the worker poisoning story, you’ll find as I have that this is owned by the News Corp, aka, Fox News, aka Murdoch.  Is this not just a bizarre circumstance in which conservative press pushers have actually condoned a warning implemented by the Chinese government?  strange Times.

Well, I know by gut instinct that if mercury is involved in the production, it’s going to affect at least some workers in some capacity.  I’ve never before stopped to think about who’s putting LCD screen or battery pieces together… so much to think about!  But one question I can ask myself is, do I need to add more to the waste stream?  Recycling electronics is another topic for exploration.

Additionally, CFL’s, among plenty of other electronics, emit “Dirty Electricity” or “electrosmog“.  Anyone heard of this?  This is some really geeky information here.  Dirty electricity and UV (i.e. radiation) is emitted from florescent lights, and these inputs appear to cause symptomatic flare-ups in asthmatics, diabetics, and Multiple Sclerosis sufferers.  My mom and my younger brother are diagnosed with MS.  I’m not recommending CFL’s to them anytime soon.  I think I’d try something like a “dirty energy filter” instead, which are supposed to block high energy wavelengths from cfl’s and electronics.    Such technology could be useful for neurological and immunological disorders or other allergies.

Does that mean consuming more mercury for our lighting is just something we have to put up with?

I don’t think so.  There are LED lights that deliver energy and light without mercury, and they have longer lifetimes than CFLs.  They are quite pricey compared to CFLs and they don’t carry the same brightness levels either.  However, the technology seems to be improving, so keep an eye out for them.

And until LEDs are an option for you, try finding ways to retool your energy sources.  Like switching into a renewable energy program.  Their may be one in your area.  In NY, one must contact their current service provider, and ask for their renewable energy plan option.  There’s also 1BOG, a very interesting collective buying model that could bring solar energy to your neighborhood.

With a change like this, and lowering your energy consumption in general by unplugging outlets or using specially designed power strips, you may just be able to wait out the lighbulb debate.

Either way we should recycle all bulbs when their time has come, RIP.

Speaking of RIP, oil lamps have been used in Eastern Orthodox churches as votives.  You can use low grade olive oil–renewable, non-toxic–or another renewable, cheap vegetable oil indigenous to your region, to burn a wick in any glass jar and make them for your home!  Classy and vintage.

Or maybe this brother Evans Wadongo, working things out in Kenya with his invention of solar powered LED lanterns, will light up a trend…

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About C. Sala Hewitt

C. Sala Hewitt
This entry was posted in Climate Change, Practice Makes Perfect and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What’s Light Got To Do With It? A consideration on energy efficient lighting…

  1. xerezo says:

    Some random initial responses to your informative post:

    1. It’s quite alaming that the mercury content (just a “trace”) of CFLs is being overshadowed /minimized by the bulbs’ “no brainer” benefits. I have to admit my own ignorance about the existence of mercury in CFLs. I think I broke one of these badboys (jeez, literally) in my apartment and probably didn’t think twice about it. The trace amount just disappeared into thin air! I didn’t see; I didn’t consume it? :\

    2. I really enjoy the NYC Department of Sanitation’s website because I’m interested in waste issues and the city’s approach to recyling. Anyway, they provide an alphabetized listing of all kinds of stuff and how to dispose of it legally in NYC: http://www.nyc.gov/html/dsny/html/faq/dispose_a-g.shtml

    Check out the CFL entry (more minimizing) and related links. Basically, according to DSNY, it belongs in regular household trash – but there’s an additional note:

    Residents – There is currently no law prohibiting residents from placing household CFLs in their trash, but to prevent injury to Sanitation workers, double bag CFLs before discarding.

    Double bag for glass shards or mercury or both? Argh! I can only imagine the many other risks related to waste removal…

    3. I’m actually currently faced with the consumer choices related to the lightbulbs and I’ll likely purchase a CFL because the savings in my electric bill outweigh the costs associated with bulb breakage. I think I may already be sustaining the cost of the CFL I broke several months ago. I will, however, be looking out for the warning labels on the packaging and I will also consider the olive oil lamp!

    4. Looking forward to seeing / hearing more about the LED lightbulb.

    • rootsinwater says:

      Greetings! Thanks so much for your thoughtful response. You raise very pertinent concerns about the waste stream in NYC. I checked out the NYC Dept. of Sanitation site and found a whole study on the composition of city waste . I am seriously wondering how they analyzed all that garbage! I hope no poor soul had to dig through it substandard globes! Useful information though, for whomever wants to decipher it (think I’d need a quick tutorial).

      I also posted info for the recycling policies page, to clarify questions on recycling electronics. Turns out the New York State will ban residential disposal of electronic appliances (computers, TVs…) in 2015! Yippee! It’s unfortunate the government has to bind us by law to do this. But it should fold in CFLs into that ban as well, under the same principle of avoiding mercury’s easy entree into our worker, water, and waste environments.

      I actually had no idea that it is illegal in NYC to throw phone chargers away in the trash. I guess the battery is supposed to go to the place from where it was purchased.

      But who is walking around thinking, oh, I need to bring that charger back to Verizon since I ditched their gold-digging a55es…

  2. rootsinwater says:

    Another note: I am not suggesting replace lighting with oil lamps… getting cheap veggie oil that’s fairly, cleanly produced is a whole other matter. But they’re great to have around for that special DIY mood 🙂

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