Monday, August 18, 2008


Like many people these days, I’ve been looking for ways to reduce my carbon footprint. I recycle everything that’s accepted, I look for items with the least packaging (and email feedback to companies who over-package). I’m careful about my water usage and monitor the thermostat; I upgraded some drafty windows. Where lighting is concerned, I never did leave unnecessary lights on, but I decided it was still a good thing to switch over to those energy saving bulbs. You know, the squiggly ones that look like soft-serve ice cream. The first bulb I replaced was in my floor lamp. I was happy to discover I could get a 3-way bulb to replace the old kind I had in it. I rarely use this lamp; it’s really only for those times at night when I might need an extra bit of light, like when I see one of the cats staring intently at a spot on the carpet (they are my early warning bug detector system). But I figured even if I used it infrequently may as well be green about it. Only the bulb didn’t fit, not even when I removed that inner stabilizing ring. No worries, I just went back to the store and exchanged it for a couple of smaller ones for my table lamps. Well, the smaller bulbs didn’t fit the smaller lamps either. Nor did they fit in the ceiling fixtures. I will say this, all my lamps, with the exception of the floor lamp, are pretty old. The ceiling fixtures have to be older still. Maybe newly built houses and brand spanking new lamps will accommodate these Dairy Freeze bulbs. But wait a minute, the floor lamp is only two years old – what gives? So, my attempt to go green with my lighting has come to a screeching halt. I’m not about to go out and replace every lamp and fixture in my house!

As far as energy consumption goes, this won’t really affect me much. I prefer a low-light environment in the evening when I’m watching TV. But I was annoyed that the bulbs wouldn’t fit. I was considering emailing someone about the problem. And then I saw a consumer report on my local news station about the new “green” bulbs. Here is an excerpt from a similar article I found online. All the pink remarks are mine.

"So you broke a CFL light… the good news is they are getting more affordable so it won't hurt the wallet to replace it, the bad news, you probably only have a couple days to live anyway. Ok, kidding about the “couple days to live” but in all seriousness CFL bulbs contain small amounts of mercury so you are going to want to take some precautions when cleaning them up. No need to call the Hazmat team (yeah right), just follow these simple ( ! ) steps from the EPA…

Before Clean-up: Ventilate the Room
1. Have people and pets leave the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out. (put on a little white mask first!!!)
2. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
3. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces (they forgot to mention wear disposable gloves)
1. Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid, such as a canning jar, or in a sealed plastic bag.
2. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
3. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the glass jar or plastic bag.
4. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.
Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug
1. Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
2. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
3. If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.(this was not recommended by the TV reporter)
4. Remove the vacuum bag, or empty and wipe the canister, and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Disposal of Clean-up Materials
1. Immediately place all cleanup materials outside the building in a trash container or outdoor protected area for the next normal trash.
2. Wash your hands (or better yet, remove your gloves) after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
3. Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.

Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Ventilate the Room During and After Vacuuming
1. The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window prior to vacuuming.
2. Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed."

Now I realize that none of us breaks lightbulbs on a regular basis. But still, it does or can easily happen, so my question is – is this the best of only alternative to incandescent ones we can come up with? It this not more of a lateral green move? All the more reason for get those free energy projects up and running, folks.

Photo from City of Clovis website


Raven said...

Lord, that's scary. I feel like if I break one of them I'll have to call in a crew to detoxify the place. Agggh. Why is life never simple?

Pearl said...

my goodness. that's either playing it really safe or we need to switch back to candles. or both.

Island Rambles Blog said...

I feel the same way...if we have to switch to another bulb why could they not make it safe if broken and also safe for the environement and people when is really annoying as these bulbs do not fit and you cannot use them in an enclosed fixture that has a decorative glass covering as they get too hot...grrrr...thanks for this post...cheers.

bobbie said...

Don't know why your bulbs didn't fit. I replaced all mine into old lamps with no problem.
But the need for such drastic measures if a bulb is broken is really scary. We definitely need a better solution than this.

Quiet Paths said...

Hmmm, kind of like dealing with MRSA. I've known this about these light bulbs. I agree, we can do better than that! Great post, Deb.

magiceye said...

very informative post...
never knew that going green would be deadly serious!

sydney said...

I am SO going to just turn my lights off...
Anything that needs a hazardous waste kit to clean up is not coming into my house...
Had no idea!
Did you ever play with little balls of mercury as a child, or see anyone at school play with it? I did, don't want to push my luck... We are really lucky to be here with all the stuff we didn't know growing up.

Poetikat said...

I hate to say it, but as environmentally conscious as I am, I am also far too paranoid to have these bulbs in my house ( I DO have them, by the way). I will definitely think twice about buying them again though as I don't think the environmental impact outweighs the hazardous aspect. This doesn't seem to be a great solution. I have one located down in the basement where I mop up after cats. I have occasionally hit the bulb with the mop-handle. So far, no breaks, BUT, now I'm going to be extra-careful not to wield the mop like a bat.


Deborah Godin said...

To all commenters - I agree, it give one pause about going green in this instance. Although some of my fixtures simply wouldn't allow the bulbs to be screwed in, my table lamps would take the bulbs, but have those clip-on-the-bulb shades, and I was hesitant to try and force them over the squiggly bulbs, thinking they might be fragile and break...and of course I was just thinking about the cost to replace them, until I read about the mercury. I think I'll just keep the old bulbs for short term lighting needs, and the rest of the time start using all those candles I have for show and never burn!

Bob Dylan said...

I'm a tree planter myself, I mean as above and beyond my actual green duties as a regular human. Everyone was all enthusiastic in the 70s, and it didn't last, but this time around it's going to stick.

Poetikat said...

Here's a tip I just learned through trial and error in this "inconvenient" situation: when using the duct tape, don't wear rubber gloves! I ended up having to seal the rubber gloves up with the bits of light bulb.

(The cats broke the bulb, while locked in the bedroom - windows were open- when the plumber was here to install a new toilet. I freaked! I'm sure my husband is wondering why he married such a b#*$% who is a madwoman in a crisis?)

I had to throw out some socks, a lamp and am currently washing all bedding in hot water.

Tomorrow - I replace EVERY SINGLE BULB with the "safe" ones.


Pray that my cats didn't inhale the mercury vapours upon impact of the crash and they won't suffer renal failure or some other nasty repercussion.