Monday, October 15, 2007

A letter to http://www.thebulb.com

I found this company that claims to produce a carbon free CFL and I had so many questions that I had to write to the company for clarification. I will post any answer that I may receive.

The letter:
I found your website through carbonfund.org and I am still a little skeptical about CFLs. My concerns are about the total costs of CFLs compared to incandescent. I have seen a lot of comparisons between energy and replacement costs and those numbers do favor the CFLs. What about the other costs associated with CFLs?

Packaging: the CFLs available at Lowe's and Walmart in my area are packaged in a hard plastic clam-shell as opposed to a card board sleeve for the incandescents. Since Walmart's stated goal is the sale of 6,000,000 units then packaging is an important consideration. Is the impact of packaging included in your CFL math?

Toxicity: Regular light bulbs are fairly nontoxic and break down into glass, aluminum, a bit of brass, and a little argon gas. All fairly simple and non-toxic. CFL bulbs on the other hand contain argon and mercury vapor and phosphors. These toxic chemicals are a very small percentage, I agree, but when I think about having 6 or 12 in my house it does start to add up. In fact, it really adds up when I consider that 134,475,214 CFLs have been purchased in the last 14 months. Each bulb contains 5-6 mg of mercury. That is : ((134 475 214 / .005) / 28) / 16 = 60,033,577.7 Pounds of Mercury and only about 15% are actually being recycled. That adds up to 51,028,541 Pounds of mercury is being added to American landfills every year.

Worker Safety: My regular light bulbs are made by Americans, working good wage jobs in St Louis Missouri (GE is planning to close this factory in 2008) Philips Lighting has its corporate office in Somerset, New Jersey with manufacturing plants in Danville, KY; Bath, NY; Salina, KS; Fairmont, WV; Paris, TX. CFL's are made by hand in China by workers who make a dollar or two per day while being exposed to Mercury Vapor on a daily basis. Are they getting enough protection? Is enough being done to protect the families and living areas of these workers?

Transportation: Regular bulbs travel up to 500 miles by truck and train(with American drivers) to reach consumers across America. CFL's travel thousands of miles on ships that are under little or no regulation concerning fuel economy, ocean dumping and fuel spills. Is transportation figured into the operations cost for CFL bulbs?

Disposal: In my area, I need to drive about 5 miles to take CFLs to the recycler and they do not accept broken CFLs. Other people do not have the facilities within 100 miles of them. What is the actual cost of disposing of the bulbs correctly and the penalty if 6,000,000 bulbs end up in landfills next year? CFLs are also very touchy! In 5 years I have broken at least 6, or about 1/3 of what I have bought. Any plans in the near future to accept damaged bulbs for recycling???

I am also curious about the actual recycling system for CFLs. What happens to them, exactly, after I return them for recycling? Are they melted down or crushed?? Both would add addition energy costs to each bulb.

There are a lot more issues to consider than just the costs of the bulbs or the electricity used to run them. How much more cost would be added if we have to worry about how it's made, who is making it, how it's transported and how it is disposed of?

Vickie in Seattle, WA

1 comment:

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