CFLs – an everyday household object that is almost impossible to dispose of properly

The entire country converted to Compact Fluorescent Light-globes years ago, which is great, as they use much less energy and have a longer life.

Well, if you use them properly. For instance I don’t use CFLs in the bathroom/toilet, as these lights are generally on for short periods of time, and CFLs are better when used for 15 minutes or longer.

And the greenhouse gas reduction might be overstated – this Wikipedia article reckons it has resulted in a total nationwide GHG reduction of just 0.14%.

Stash of dead CFLsThe real problem is there seems to be no well-organised way to dispose of them safely. You’re not meant to just chuck them into landfill because they have a small amount of mercury inside them.

Proper disposal locations are few and far between, and a lot of the information available on safe disposal relates to fluorescent tubes, not CFLs. Or it’s clearly at commercial disposals, not households.

Some companies that sell CFLs are also involved in their disposal. I seem to recall both Ikea and Aldi advertising that they’d take them in the past, but I don’t recall actually seeing a collection bin in their stores.

More recently, apparently Ikea has said they’ll only sell LEDs by 2016 — this would be even better than CFLs, as they last even longer, and don’t have any hazardous chemicals.

So, how to get rid of them?

I asked my local council what their position was on CFL disposals. Their reply included a number of web links, the best one being Sustainability Victoria’s A to Z of household chemical waste disposal.

This lists a number of permanent and mobile collection points, the closest one to me being the Monash Waste Transfer and Recycling Station in Notting Hill. They will take CFLs for free, provided they are separated from any other stuff you’re dropping off (charges apply for most other types of waste).

This is fine for me, I can stockpile dead CFLs and take them there once every year or two, but really it’s pretty poor for something now used in most households.

How many people just chuck them into regular garbage because they don’t know?

And how many people would find it impractical to get to a drop off point, for instance because they don’t have a car?

A follow-up from the council said they’re investigating more collection points – not kerbside, but bins at places such as libraries and other council facilities. That could work quite well, but of course, part of the problem here is that there’s no nationwide, or even statewide approach.

Witness hard rubbish – with some councils doing scheduled pickups and some doing booked pickups, the different methods across parts of Melbourne means that confusion reigns. In Glen Eira, if you book a collection and put your stuff out, half the time your neighbours will put stuff out as well, thinking an area-wide collection is coming.

The other thing the council said is that apparently a scheme involving manufacturers/importers is being considered, but that sounds like it would require Federal legislation, so it could be years away.

Until an easy, consistent method is provided for disposing of CFLs, you can bet most people won’t be getting rid of them properly.

Or maybe it’s time we all moved to LEDs.

When not to use CFLs

Letter the other week in The Age:

Not worth the cost

AM I the only person having trouble with expensive ”green globes” alleged to last 10,000 hours? Used eight hours a day, a globe should last more than three years. I have replaced the globe in one lamp four times already this year. I want my cheap, long-lasting, environmentally unfriendly globes back.

Leone Garro, Northcote

My CFLs are lasting ages… provided they’re in the right places.

I would bet the globes referred-to above are switched on for short durations (less than 15 minutes), many times a day. That kind of usage is bad for CFLs, and it’s precisely why I’ve avoided using one in the toilet, for instance, and also in the bedrooms — our particular usage there seems to predominantly involve ducking in to get something/drop something, then out again.

For those types of spots, it’s far better to stick to non-CFLs, such as the energy-saving incandescents still available. (My local supermarket has the Philips EcoClassic products, which for instance provide 100w of light but burn 70w of power.)

Evidently this message isn’t isn’t getting through.

Or possibly Leone’s light fitting or wiring is faulty, but I’m betting it’s the former.

(Previous blog post on this topic)

CFLs

Lights again.

I seem to have reached the point where the first of my compact fluorescent light globes are starting to be replaced.

Many of them I installed about two years ago, and most in the house are still going strong.

The three that have expired get switched on generally for only short periods of time, which Wikipedia notes can cut the lifespan drastically, and says:

The US Energy Star program says to leave them on at least 15 minutes at a time to mitigate this problem.

I wonder if those ones should be replaced with conventional bulbs, while they’re still available? In the supermarket it appears the range has been radically reduced since I last bought any, with an “efficient” range of Phillips incandescent bulbs pretty much the only ones left in Safeway, probably reflecting stricter rules on light globe importation and power consumption.

Another CFL that is still working, but is showing signs of wearing-out, is in the hallway outside the kids’ bedroom, and gets left on at night. Given the number of hours it’s spent switched-on (I estimate something like 4600 hours so far) that’s pretty impressive.

What to do with the CFLs once used? It’s generally known that they have a small amount of mercury in them, and therefore ideally shouldn’t end up in landfill. Reality seems to be rather different though — when I rang the council about it, they said they know of no special arrangements for them. Hmm.

As with traffic lights, hopefully domestic lighting will move towards LEDs, which not only use less power, they don’t have the short usage problems, and nor do they (as far as I know) require special methods of disposal.

Update 12:20pm. Clarified that some Phillips incandescent globes still available in Safeway.