Light Bulbs, Mercury Emissions & Why You Should Switch to CFLs to Save Money, the Environment & Your Health

Light Bulbs, Mercury Emissions & Why You Should Switch to CFLs to Save Money, the Environment & Your Health
Page content

Cost Efficiency

Lighting your home accounts for 20 percent of the average electric bill. For most individuals, replacing older incandescent bulbs with Compact Fluorescent light bulbs is one of the easiest ways to save the environment and your wallet.

Save Energy and Money

What should you know about saving energy and money as it pertains to home lighting? For starters, CFLs use 75 percent less energy than a traditional incandescent light bulb. They last about 10 times longer and provide a quick return on your investment as the lifespan of most CFLs is around 10,000 hours, while incandescent bulbs last around 1,000 hours.

Compare the wattage conversion: A CFL light bulb rated at 20 watts is equal to about a 75-watt incandescent bulb. A CFL rated at 13-watts equals about a 60-watt incandescent . For the purposes of this example, these bulbs have an 8,000-rated-hour-life.

If every home in America replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a CFL, in one year enough energy would be saved to light more than three million homes. That translates into the prevention of the release of greenhouse gas emissions equal to that of about 800,000 cars.

Mercury Concerns

Mercury is an element that occurs naturally in the environment. Coal-fired power plants are the largest man-made source of mercury emissions. Coal contains mercury, which is released when the coal is burned. Although the technology is declining, coal-fired power generation still accounts for nearly 40 percent of the mercury pollution in the United States.

The total amount of mercury released into the environment from a regular incandescent light bulb (when powered by coal-burning energy plants) is 5.8mg. When a CFL is thrown away, it releases less than 1.6mg of mercury (assuming that the bulb is broken). No mercury is released when the bulbs are in use. You can also opt to recycle the bulbs.

Clean Up Mercury Safely

What you should do if you break a fluorescent light bulb or any other product that contains mercury? Follow these steps for a safe clean-up:

  1. Open the windows, shut off any central forced-air heating/air conditioning systems, and evacuate pets and people from the area for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Carefully scoop up all glass and powder fragments using a stiff piece of paper or cardboard.
  3. Place them in a glass jar with a metal lid or in a sealed plastic bag.
  4. Use a sticky tape, such as packaging tape or duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass pieces and powder.
  5. Wipe area clean with a damp towel, and place the towel in the glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.
  6. Do not use a vacuum cleaner (if possible) as this increases the possibility of the mercury becoming airborne. However, if you must use one because the breakage happened on carpet, dispose of the vacuum bag immediately in a sealed plastic bag.
  7. Throw away any bedding or clothing that comes in direct contact with mercury. Put tainted garments in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of properly.


Popular Mechanics, “The Best Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs: PM Lab Tests,”

United States Environmental Protection Agency, Recycling Mercury-containing Light Bulbs (Lamps),

Petru, Alexis, “GE’s Hybrid CFL Saves Energy, Turns on Instantly,” www.earth911

Image Credits

Incandescent & fluorescent light bulbs by RTCNCA under CCA by 3.0 SA