We all know that there are hundreds of little things that we could do to lower our personal carbon footprint and decrease the amount of energy we consume. A lot of them wouldn’t even require us to change our daily habits or standard of living at all. For example, getting in the habit of turning off the lights when you leave a room doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of anything at all. It’s a tiny little behavioral modification, but it can go a long way to conserving energy.
I recently replaced a dead light bulb in the bathroom. Without giving it a lot of thought, I went out and bought a compact fluorescent (CFL) to match the two remaining bulbs that still worked. It cost a lot more than the old incandescent style would have, but we all know that the new compact fluorescents are way more efficient. They use less electricity and also last much longer so they also result in fewer dead bulbs heading to the landfill. All around a much better option for the environment. So I was pretty pleased with myself for having made this small decision not based on what was the cheapest option but what was the best option for the earth. I know, I’m a total tree hugger.
But then, after turning on the lights, I read the packaging and was quite surprised to find out that this 9 watt CFL bulb was rated for the same light output as the 40 watt incandescent bulb it replaced, but it would last 8000 hours!! In fact, it has a money back guarantee for 7 years!! What kinds of products are guaranteed for almost a decade anymore? Almost nothing.
The packaging on the bulb also states that over the 8000 hour life of the bulb, at a cost of $0.10 per KWH you would save $24 compared to the cost of operating 40W incandescent bulbs for the same 8000 hours. Incredible. So it’s a textbook case of pay now or pay later. Investing $10 in the higher efficiency bulb today saves me $24 on my electricity bill (per bulb!) over a 7 year span. That’s a pretty good analogy to our current global environmental crisis in general. We need to invest in research and technology today that will save us energy and reduce our carbon emissions over the long haul.
There is, however, another side to the lightbulb story. On the back of the package I noticed it also warns “Lamp Contains Mercury” and advises that you check your local disposal regulations on how to dispose of dead compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs). Many cities don’t accept CFLs in their recycling programs and in some places it’s even illegal to throw them in the regular garbage. The good news is that according to www.lamprecycle.org “Manufacturer investments in technology over the last two decades have reduced the amount of mercury used in lamps by nearly 95%.” Also, if you can find a place that recycles your CFLs they are able to recapture and reuse over 99% of the mercury in new CFLs and by recycling them you are eliminating the hazard of waste management workers being exposed to toxic mercury from broken bulbs. So, we’re clearly headed in the right direction, but we do need to be mindful of the big picture and remember that just because we’re putting less dead bulbs in the landfill doesn’t mean there aren’t other adverse effects to watch out for and continue improving on.
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