Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell

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Feb 27 2009

Turn in Your Books, Recycle Your CFLs:
A New Idea and Approach

Since 2006 more than 300 million Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs have been purchased in our country. In addition, Seattle City Light recently announced that its “Twist and Save” program has garnered sales of over 1 million CFLs locally. The number of people using CFLs will continue to rise as the US Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) which lays out performance thresholds that incandescent bulbs simply do not meet. To be clear, this does not ban the sale of incandescent bulbs. If an incandescent bulb were produced that was able to meet the threshold, its use would not be prohibited.

The schedule to phase out incandescent bulbs will begin with the 100-watt bulb in 2012 and end in 2014 with the banning of the 40-watt bulb. Also by 2014, it is required that all light bulbs use up to 30% less energy, and by 2020 all bulbs need to be 70% more efficient than they are now. In terms of our country’s Energy Security, this is a step in the right direction because incandescent bulbs are extremely inefficient. For example, only 15% of the energy used by an incandescent bulb actually creates light. The other 85% of the energy is dispersed as heat. By way of comparison, according to the Federal Government Program, ENERGY STAR, “if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for one year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gasses equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.” These kind of numbers show why it is so important that we transition to CFLs or other efficient emerging technologies.

However, cutting the use of incandescent bulbs creates a new problem. As you may know, each CFL contains a small amount of mercury. For this reason, it is not advisable to throw them in the garbage because the mercury would not be contained, if and when the bulb breaks. As the use of CFLs increases, convenient and safe disposal will be an emerging problem which needs to be addressed. Currently, one can take their used CFL bulb to different retailers or to City Light’s North or South Service Centers. This is all good, but I believe we can make CFL disposal more accessible and convenient, because many citizens do not comply or simply do not know that throwing a CFL in the trash is hazardous.

I am examining the feasibility of allowing citizens to take their used CFL bulbs to environmentally safe bins at all Seattle Public Library locations. The rationale of this proposal is to make disposal more convenient, thus keeping the bulbs out of our landfills. As we can see from the information above, the use of CFLs will continue to increase, which makes responsible, environmentally safe disposal imperative. There are 27 Seattle Public Library locations in our city, which will make disposal convenient for citizens. Because CFLs last up to ten years longer than incandescent bulbs, it can be argued that we have not yet seen the real problem of disposal. As the first wave of CFL consumption reaches the disposal stage, this will become a real issue unless we develop convenient methods of disposal.

My goal is to take advantage of the fact that most citizens know the location of their neighborhood public library and we can forego the expense of purchasing new disposal sites. In addition, by acting in a preventative manner, we can avoid spending money in the future to clean up the problem. I will examine the feasibility of this policy and keep you informed.

Photo credit: 1) Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License;
2) http://www.spl.org/images/branch/img_map.gif

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