BeingGreen: Fluorescent Lighting.

February 13, 2009

There’s not a lot to be said about fluorescent lighting, really.  Sure, in the old days it was pretty complicated; you had to get these special fixtures to hold these ENORMOUS glowing tubes and they made this weird artificial light that flickered a lot.

Well, the light still looks funky, but newer bulbs no longer flicker, and now you can get them in sizes that fit standard light sockets.

This is quite possibly the second easiest green thing you can do.  It’s very simple: go to town, buy fluorescent lightbulbs, take home and use to replace any lightbulbs that have burned out.  Fluorescent lightbulbs have several advantages over incandescents: they last longer (assuming you treat them well), they’re brighter, and they use less energy to operate.  Plus they come in really interesting shapes, which is significant if you get kicks from staring at lightbulbs.  (It DOES leave a neat shape in your vision, but it can be damaging to the eyes.  Don’t do it.)

The one thing you have to watch out for: mercury.  Fluorescent lightbulbs contain significant amounts of mercury, and so should not be tossed in the regular trash, as explained by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

“[Regular] disposal methods can lead to a release of elemental mercury into the environment through breakage and leakage and ultimately contaminate the food chain.”

A bit ironic that the most energy-efficient lightbulb of our time is also the most potentially toxic, but if you take care of your bulbs properly it’s well worth the mercury use.  To do that, you need to find a hazardous waste disposal facility or a recycling center that services lightbulbs.  The EPA pulls through again with their Where You Live page, which tells you who you can contact in your area to find out about disposal facilities.

It’s no accident: at least a third of the effort you put into being green, especially at first, will go into recycling.  It can’t be helped.  People go through tons of garbage every day; it all has to go somewhere and the landfill is not the way to go.  Though I understand the need to use and dispose of garbage in our daily lives, I hope that if people start taking responsibility for the things they throw out they will become more aware of the huge impact that they are making.  I also hope that some day it will become less of an effort for people to be green than to clog up the earth with tons of junk – because, in all seriousness, it’s the only planet we have, and no matter who you are or what you believe in, there’s a very real chance that your great-great-grandchildren will have to live in it.


(Note: It may be possible that incandescent lightbulbs have already been phased out of the market by this point.  I haven’t been lightbulb-shopping in some months, so if they have it is without my knowledge, much like the time they phased out VHS’s.)


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