INTRO: In January 2012 The federal government will ban the use of regular incandescent light bulbs. The most wasteful 100 watt bulb will be the first to go. The 40 watt will be gone by 2014. The U.S. Department of Energy wants energy efficiency. But even the curly cued alternative bulbs, the compact florescent lights, aren’t perfect. They contain traces of mercury and have to be recycled. Michigan Now’s Chris McCarus reports.
In Boyne City two customers follow an employee into a stock room in the back of the Ace Hardware. Chad Muma opens a bucket of used compact florescent light bulbs. Because the CFL’s contain the neurotoxin mercury they are kept away from the shelves.
“This is a cfl recycling program.”
“Ok,” says Sherry Dubay.
“You can bring them to here and we will dispose of them properly by sending them back to the company,” says Muma.
Sherry Dubay says she didn’t see the poster in the store about dropping off CFL’s. But she’s bought several dozen of them this year.
“Energy efficiency yes. That’s why I have them. Because I think it’s important to do what you can.”
The new fangled bulbs use one quarter of the energy that old bulbs use. And they last 10 times longer. Chad Muma explains his job.
“We’re supposed to document every one by the date and what kind of bulb it is. And you only have a limited amount of time to send it in regardless of how many bulbs you have in there.”
Muma looks down into his bucket like a fisherman disappointed with his catch.
“We have about 7 or 8 in there right now.”
Since the recycling program started this summer, Boyne City Ace Hardware has only sent back 1 bucket worth. There are 200 other drop off locations across Michigan. Not all are this slow.
“Yeah I usually take them to the recycling center which does the same thing. But I live in Petoskey. I live here so I will come and bring them to you. In five years I hope to see ya.”
Michigan Energy Options in East Lansing is the non-profit group that set up the program. They got big retailers to sell at discount prices. That’s helped screw in a million CFL’s. This could cushion consumer shock when the federal government begins the ban on incandesant light bulbs in 2012. Some people are still shocked that a single bulb can cost $3-$4 at full price and they contain traces of mercury. But:
“It does work out better to still use a CFL even though it contains mercury because you’re using less mercury than you would if you’re using an incandescent light bulb.”
Becky Jo Farrington helped establish the recycling program and Change A Light-Change Michigan program that introduced CFL’s a couple years ago.
“So there’s an average of 4 milligrams of mercury in a CFL,” says Farrington.
If recycled instead of tossed in the garbage, that bulb will cause no pollution. What’s key is taking the old energy hog light bulbs off the grid.. They use so much more dirty coal.
“Which totals,” according to Farrington, “696,000 milligrams of mercury pollution avoided through this program.”
And how much carbon dioxide pollution do a million CFL’s avoid?
“We calculated that that translates into something like 60,000 cars off the roads for a year. For 99 cents that you can make that kind of a difference as a consumer is pretty impressive.”
John Kinch is the Michigan Energy Options director. He commissioned a faux 1950’s video for Youtube to help make their point.