Shedding light on fluorescents

Marketplace Staff Sep 11, 2008

Shedding light on fluorescents

Marketplace Staff Sep 11, 2008


Bob Moon: We’re hearing a lot about energy policy this election season. But until Washington can figure out what it wants to do about foreign oil or the man-made causes of climate change, we’re largely on our own. To cut back on energy use, a lot of us are driving less or lighting our homes with those squiggly fluorescent bulbs. But as Joellen Easton reports, not every one is sold.

Joellen Easton: Carie Lape has a few CFL bulbs in her Long Beach California home. She wants more, but first she wants some facts about dimmability and the mercury content. But …

Carie Lape: I don’t think there’s one place to go and get all the information I need.

What’s keeping Carie Lape from looking?

Lape: I guess inertia. I mean this is something I want to do, but it just seems like it takes so much time.

Jessica Jensen: And the fact of the matter is if they spent five minutes online doing some research, it would be pretty apparent.

Jessica Jensen runs the Web site She says she encounters people with questions like Carie’s all the time. She says if people took the five minutes, they’d find out there are lots of different kinds of CFLs, both dimmable and not. But the next question is the big one.

Jensen: I shouldn’t use compact fluorescents, right? They’re dangerous, they have mercury, I shouldn’t have them in my home.

Well, no. The amount of mercury in a CFL totals the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen and increasingly a lot less than that. A mercury thermometer has more than a hundred times that amount.

Jensen: So, I do think people have to learn about the product and we’re going through a cycle and eventually we’ll get to a point of comfort.

As for Carie Lape, she didn’t know that in California CFLs have to be recycled as hazardous waste. So I jumped in the car with her and we drove to the local collection center.

Collection center worker: [sound of boxes being lifted] What are you dropping off for us today?

Lape: A compact fluorescent bulb, couple of them; some regular light bulbs; some batteries, lots of batteries …

Some might find this a hassle. But it just got a lot easier: Home Depot now has free in-store CFL recycling at its stores nation-wide, no matter where you bought the bulbs.

In Los Angeles, I’m Joellen Easton for Marketplace.

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