90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Thursday, January 6, 2011

Is Hoarding Light Bulbs A Bright Idea?

Massive home furnishings retailor, Ikea, prepares to stop selling all of its incandescent bulbs for good. (AP)

Not everyone is happy that under a 2007 energy law, old-style incandescent light bulbs will be phased out starting in January 2012. The federal government says it’s not a ban. But the change is prompting some people to hoard incandescents, which haven’t changed much since Edison invented them. We speak with Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of the Detroit News.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Nancy Heidelberger

    Nolan is my hero! I also have not embraced the new light bulbs, mostly due to the mercury issue. No one has convinced me of how to dispose of them properly. And as of September, only 7 states have outlawed the practice of tossing these bulbs in the trash. Only 7? And if they break in your house, you have a hazard to clean up. You can’t beat the Dollar Store light bulbs at 4 for a $1.00. I think Nolan will have some competition on stockpiling these! Also, good point on the low flush toilets! Go Nolan, Go!

  • iolo

    how far does one have to look to find the elevated level of self-centered, deluded apologist such as the one interviewed about his ‘reasons’ for hoarding incandescent bulbs?
    is it across the street, around the block, just down the next aisle of the supermarket?
    except as a good laugh at someone’s willful ignorance and throwback selfishness, how valuable is it to publicize such an ‘opinion’, without having a strong rebuttal to such foolhardiness?

  • http://N/A P. A. Manders

    We use dimmer switches on nearly every light switch in our home. We’ve only replaced a very few bulbs in the last 30 years. We use less electricity and rarely have burned out bulbs. We hate the new bulbs–feel like we’ve gone back to the days of candlepower:( And mercury in another product after we’ve just worked so hard to get rid of it in others doesn’t seem the best sell. I wonder if anyone has studied this?

  • Vivek

    One issue with new LED – energy saving lamps surfaced after they replaced the Traffic Lights.
    The older technology, the energy hogging bulb, also had a side benefit that it melts the snow / ice accumulated on the traffic light slowly.

    Now the energy efficient LED lights need someone to go and cleanup after the snow. Or maybe adding a heater will make them energy losers again (add the cost of rework).

  • Lise Gervais

    If you think CFLs are ugly look at mountain top removal coal mining. Tell sick or dead miners families that you don’t like the shape. Where do you live that you can’t find CFL’s that don’t come on right away? There are many that are small and round and fit in table lamps just fine.
    The rest of us and our children and grandchildren are subsidizing the rest of the cost of your 25 cent light bulb.
    Ikea recycles CFL’s.

  • bob

    Most annoying story ever. Is he hoarding leaded fuel for his car as well? Or maybe he is stockpiling chlorofluorocarbon for his hair spray? 2011… time to move on with your life.

  • Vivek
  • http://dwaln@eoni.com David Waln

    I hate Mercury in the environment as much as the next person. But I think we need a little perspective about where the greatest risks may be coming from.

    EPA numbers estimate all annual USA coal plant emmisions are just under 50 tons. But wait!!!!, that is roughly the same amount of Mercury as in the CFLs for 1 billion bulbs. One billion is roughly 3 bulbs for every man woman and child in the United States.

    “All CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury, typically about 5 mg, which is 1/6000th of an ounce.” This quote from a site that was promoting CFLs was trying to illustrate how little Mercury is in one of these lights; but do the math. 1,000,000,000/600=1,666,666 oz./16=104,166 lb./2,000=52tons of Mecury. And this Murcury is all within our air confined living spaces in fragile containers, over carpets and beds and other surfaces that make cleanup nearly impossible if one gets broken from the kids having a pillow fight.

    I personally don’t like it that 50 tons from coal plants translates to about 15 mg per 7 acres in the great outdoors in the United States. But It pails in comparison to the exposure the occupants of a house where even one 5mg CFL accident has occurred and was not thoroughly cleaned up.

    By promoting CFLs we are creating a future nightmare like we did with Lead in house paint, and Asbestos in flooring and ceiling tile. We will likely not be able to buy or rent a used houses without expensive testing for Mercury vapors, or automatically replacing all the carpets.

  • Jandroid

    I’m with Nolan too. I’m just 372 bulbs behind him in my collection. Plus, I’d have to sleep with them, if I had that many (I live in a studio apartment.) But I would collect the same amount of incandescents if I had the space, because I can’t stand the new CFL bulbs. And I’m as big a tree hugger as you can find (I recycle almost 75% of my trash – working on 100%,walk or take transit whenever I can, trip chain when I can’t, garden organically, eat and shop locally sourced items, etc.) But CFL’s are not only hazardous waste that is not being handled properly at all in most cases (no mercury is a good amount), the light spectrum drives me nuts – all the “colors”, and they frankly give me a headache, along with all other fluorescent lights. I’m surprised, but I find myself siding with the opponents to this ban in this case. Let CFLs be optional for those who wish them. They can reap the energy saving benefits as they wish. I’ll pay the extra electricity bill and conserve elsewhere for the right to have warm, yellow light, TYVM.

  • Kirk Haverkamp

    When’s the last time Finley even tried a CFL if he thinks there’s a delay when you turn them on? I have a couple old CFLs that came with my house when I bought it five years ago, but every one I’ve bought since comes on instantly. Nolan needs to remember to check his facts and not rely so much on outdated information and conservative scuttlebutt.

  • Mikael G.

    Nolan Finley is probably one of those people who also refuses to use the Internet because it’s too new and he is afraid of it.

    I’ve been using CFL’s for the past 12 years and wish the mandate came one decade sooner. The light output colour (colour temperature) of CFL’s matches and exceeds that of the incandescent. As far as how long the bulbs take to “turn-on”, yes the early ones from the 90′s (of which I still have in use) did take 1 second. But any of the newer ones fire up in a fraction of a second. You wouldn’t even have time to walk past the light switch before the bulb is on. They do, however have a short “warm-up” phase that takes up to 60 seconds to reach optimal light output but is such a minor caveat it’s not even worth being accounted for.

    CFL’s cost only a few dollars and come in packs of 2-6. They did cost $10 or so a bulb over a decade ago, but times have changed. The cost of the bulb is easily recovered over the life of the bulb in comparison to the electrical cost of using incandescent, not to mention the reduced cooling costs of HVAC systems if you live in warm climate locations. Furthermore, CFL’s have an exponentially longer life span than incandescent. I’m still using some I bought over 10 years ago. The raw waste from the equivalent amount of incandescent’s over a 10 year period trumps that created by the CFL’s.

    I’ve just started having to “dispose” of my bulbs from 10 years ago. Check your local governments e-waste recycling website. Additionally, stores such as The Home Depot will take them, free of charge for material recovery. I’m sure other retailers also do this. This negates any hassle of having to dispose of them.

    At least this interview was good for a laugh!

  • http://understandit.ml1.net/ Alex J

    The compact fluorescents these days are economical when considering power savings over a significantly longer average bulb life. And halogens (essentially incandescents that offer some extra light per watt) are still an option, and a far less costly one than LED for those not wanting to make a larger up-front investment.

    As for mercury, today’s standard compacts tend to only have a trace of it, and I’m not sure breaking one of them is a serious hazard, as long as you clean everything up (as you would with little glass shards from a conventional bulb) and vent the room. On the whole, CFLs are probably a net benefit in terms of mercury, even if they aren’t all recycled. After all, they help reduce some of the demand on coal-fired power plants that emit tons of mercury into America’s air annually, and leave more behind in coal ash.

  • http://understandit.ml1.net/ Alex J

    Hat tip to those who already pointed out the details on mercury. And Vivek, we could use the jobs right now, but I guess funding could be an issue. In areas where it’s a frequent problem despite snow guards you’d think they could install small defrost heaters in manufacturing that activate below freezing. Just as heat pump owners must pay a bit extra up-front for a defrost mechanism in order to save power over conventional systems.

  • Kirk Haverkamp

    David Wahl – You need to check your math. At 5 milligrams each, 1 billion cfls would have only 5,000 kilograms of mercury, or 5.5 tons, about one-ninth the annual emissions of coal-burning plants. And since very few of these can be expected to break, only a fraction of those 5.5 tons would make it into the environment.

  • http://dwaln@eoni.com David Waln

    Kirk Haverkamp – you’re right. My error.

    I am interested, still, about your thought about the location and relative concentration of that mercury that does inevitably get released when a CFL breaks.

    I am an early adopter and have a metal container of more than a dozen dead CFLs. I somehow managed to break 3 of them. Only one was dropped and shattered. The other two I accidentally broke the tube across the diameter,( which lets the mercury vapor escape over a little more time). I’m a little clumsy but so are a lot of other people. I have broke 3 in less than 10 years – in one household.

    I started buying CFLs when they were first available at our local Walmart maybe 7 years ago. I started trying to return dead ones less than a year later. The Walmart returns employee said she could not take them back but I could replace them with the same item IF they had it on the shelf. [She intimated that there had been a lot of similar 'returns'.] As it turned out they did not have the same bulbs on the shelf. Brands kept changing. I kept buying. I figured it was my responsibility to help the industry work out the bugs.

    I have since been diagnosed with the start of Macular Degeneration. I am 57. The blue wavelengths of light that are abundant in many (maybe all?) CFLs is implicated in the kind of eye damage associated with damage to the Macula, leading to MD.
    One more reason I don’t want these things in my house or workplace anymore.

    You might find the following article from snopes.com interesting: http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp

    Read the recommended clean up procedure and tell me this Is going to happen in even a third of cases of broken bulbs across the United States.

  • Mary Roth

    Was at a friend’s house once where a lamp “tree” of about a dozen CFL’s (highest possible wattage too) was shining away into our eyes. I had the impression some people think these things are “good for the environment,” so let’s burn a lot of them.

    Same types who drive their cars everywhere, even for a 1-block errand, but become insanely virtuous about car-pooling to one specific event.

    Or cf. advice from smokers on wearing bike helmets. Or advice from chronic drunks on the dangers of swimming or walking alone.

    Good luck too with assuming people will be responsible for cleaning up mercury spills or even recycling the bulbs. Into the trash they go!

  • http://dwaln@eoni.com David Waln

    No body is going to believe my math after I was just off by a factor of 10. lol…. But you can check this again or do your own research and math.

    In round numbers! 300 million people, 100 million households, 1,000 sq, ft, per household = 3,600 sq.miles of interior living space. The land mass of the United States is just over one thousand times that.

    That suggests that if there was equal distribution of Mercury from coal emissions and CFL breakage inside living spaces – it is never that simple – one uncleaned up bulb in a 1,000 sq.ft. living space – that only gets aired out once a year – still gives you 100 times the concentration of Mercury in that environment than the outdoor environment.

    I know, I know…., most houses get aired out way more often than that. The extra Mercury just increases the background level in the environment by a fraction of a percent if the average person is as clumsy as I am. But what about the poorly ventilated 100 sq.ft.upstairs kids bedroom, in the winter etc.???? There are lots of those, and similar. It could easily be 1,000 times the average background from coal plants for extended periods of time.

  • http://www.GreenHomesConsultant.com David Arthur

    Here is an angle you didn’t explore for your story…

    Electric cars have been positioned as the answer to much of our dwindling oil supply and reliance on foreign oil sources.

    The problem that no one has publicly explored is that we do not have adequate electrical generation and distribution capacity for electric cars to get far beyond the novelty level of acceptance. Given our current level of electricity demands, we would need multiples of our current number of generation plants in order to charge all passenger vehicles if everyone converted to electric models. That does not consider the greenhouse gas production potential of all those new coal-fired plants that would inevitably be built to meet the skyrocketing demand.

    The only way the electric car survives as a viable widespread means of transportation is through a combination of new clean electric generation plants, infrastructure upgrades, and a huge push toward conservation and efficiency.

    That means that your energy hog incandescent light bulbs must go. Lighting equals about 15% of our residential energy load and 40% of our commercial energy usage.

    Clinging to inefficient old technologies means a continuation on our path of foreign oil reliance and unsustainable levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

    There are new LED lamps on the market that look like incandescent bulbs, have light quality that would fool the biggest incandescent stalwart, and use 10% of the electricity.

    It’s time to do some real research here, Robin.

    David Arthur, USGBC LEED-AP, BPI Building Analyst, Association of Energy Engineers Certified Energy Auditor

  • Diane

    Just saw this while browsing, a little late to comment but I want to because no one brought up a health issue that is a major health issue for my husband—for the past three years he’s been getting disabling migraines from any kind of fluorescent lighting, including CFL’s, and LED’s aren’t much better. Any time he has to go anywhere for an appointment–Dr., shopping, etc., he’s out of commission the rest of the day. Fortunately he works at home, but we have to bring bulbs with us when we travel. He’s on his third neurologist and maybe 4th or 5th med attempt, but so far nothing is working. So we’ll be stockpiling.

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

August 19 4 Comments

Abandoned Homes In Buffalo, N.Y. Selling For $1

Instead of tearing the homes down, city officials are selling them for $1, as part of the "Urban Homestead Program."

August 19 Comment

A Look At U.S. Military Options In Iraq

Retired Admiral William Fallon, who was head of United States Central Command during the Iraq War, discusses the current conflict.

August 18 37 Comments

More Americans Are Flocking To The South

A New York Times interpretation of census data finds the South is seeing significant in-migration for the first time.

August 18 10 Comments

As Pot Laws Relax, Restrictions On Research Still Tight

The firing of a University of Arizona doctor highlights the complexity and politics of marijuana research.