Op/Ed submission for consideration in The Boston Globe
Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or cfls, have been an icon of the energy efficiency movement
and their growing popularity has been remarkable. In 2007, more than 400 million cfls were
sold nationwide -- a four-fold increase from just three years ago. The associated reduction in
carbon dioxide emissions from using that many cfls (rather than the same number of
incandescent bulbs), is more than 100 million tons. Installing cfls is the easiest and most
immediate action consumers can take to reduce their ‘carbon footprints.’
Unfortunately, two reports recently issued by the state of Maine and the Vermont-based
Mercury Policy Project addressing the risks posed by mercury in cfls, are being misconstrued.
Some consumers are reaching conclusions other than those stated by the studies’ authors.
Both studies acknowledge the potential risks of mercury exposure in cfls and stress proper
disposal and the importance of recycling. These are accurate and important messages. Despite
these concerns, both studies conclude that the energy saving and environmental benefits of cfls
outweigh any risks associated with using them. Some consumers are choosing to focus on a
complicated and hazardous clean up process, should a cfl break, and are refusing to use them.
But before we throw the baby out with the bath water, we should understand the ongoing
improvements being made to cfls and the expanding options for disposing of and recycling these
Alternatives for cfl disposal are increasing every day. In several New England states, electric
utilities and other providers of energy efficiency programs are working with local
Op Ed page 2
retailers on recycling programs that enable consumers to bring cfls to a store. From there, the
cfls are sent to a recycling plant by the participating retailer. (The nation’s largest recycler of
cfls has a plant in Stoughton, Mass.)