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A Bright Idea
Sarah Rich, 21 Feb 06

CFL.jpg An 8th grade science teacher in Long Island has a simple idea for making a big dent in energy consumption. Kenny Luna wants to give one compact fluorescent light bulb to every child in the U.S., grades preK-12. To do this, he and his students are asking Oprah for help. On the class blog, Mr. Luna has invited people far and wide to join the effort, and posted instructions for sending a personal email to Oprah suggesting that she help make this happen. According to their calculations, if 50 million kids put a CFL in a lamp at home, we'd achieve $2.3 billion in energy savings. Seems like a wish worth granting.

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The unfortunate thing about compact fluorescent bulbs (and please someone correct me if I'm wrong) is that they each contain a small amount of mercury.

Posted by: Minnie Mata on 21 Feb 06

"Minnie Mata"

That's not funny at all.

Posted by: Joseph Willemssen on 21 Feb 06

Yes, some CFLs contain mercury. But it is far less mercury than what is released into the environment by burning coal.

So CFLs help *lower* the emissions of mercury into the environment, especially if you consider that the mercury from CFLs can be captured, recycled, and used again -- and not spewn into the atmosphere.

Personally speaking, I think it's criminal that we even sell incandescent light bulbs anymore...

Posted by: anonymous on 21 Feb 06

Best idea of the year IMHO

Posted by: peakguy on 21 Feb 06

It'll work until we, you know, ban incandescents entirely and save ourselves 10% of our national energy consumption.

An incandescent bulb is like a 2 miles per gallon car.

Posted by: Vinay on 21 Feb 06

A similiar project in Canada like this happened where the Government partnered with Home Depot to give out up to 2 or 3 of these things per person. I'm not sure if the program is still going on today but from what I heard it was a smash success.

Posted by: Chris on 21 Feb 06

I live in Canada, we have had a number of CFL giveaway program's that made me aware of the advantagers of CFLs. I now have 36 CFL bulbs istalled and no incandescents. My electric bill is much lower too. Electricity efficient CFLs will not become popular until electric rates go through the roof.

Posted by: Timetrvlr on 21 Feb 06

Actually if you take your old CFLs in to be recycled, that mercury is recovered so, taking that step, this really isn't a problem at all.

I've been doing my part to get my friends on the CFL bandwagon. A few have complained about the blueness of the light so, I tell them to mix CFLs in with their incandescents. Gotta start somewhere.

Posted by: Pace Arko on 21 Feb 06

the picture of a CFL looks remarkably like two 'bulbs' - 75Watt and 100Watt - receiving top supermarket promotions in the South Island of New Zealand a wee while ago.

Here a combo of s/market/govt/powercos figured out big power savings worth 1 new powerstation if 2/3 all NZ homes installed CFLs. Less if offices/ businesses go for them also.

Tks for this site and commenters.. some useful insights.. and I'll pass it back..


Posted by: roman eos on 21 Feb 06

You know if you're going to proposition Oprah for something like this, then why not skip over the CFL mercury issue altogether and go straight to LED bulbs?

Posted by: Justin Minich on 21 Feb 06

Actually, in terms of net environmental effect, the LED bulbs may not be any better: silicon is filthy stuff to make.

Posted by: VInay on 21 Feb 06

Several here have posted comments about mercury content in CFLs that I would like more information on:

First, where could I buy a CFL without mercury in it? I have not seen information on CFL without mercury content. It isn't something that the manufacturer puts on the package.

Second, several posts are about recycling CFLs. I have looked and not found any place that takes CFLs to recycle. In Denver, they are considered hazardous waste like old paint cans.

Third, one post stated that there's less mercury created by using a CFL vs incandescent so it's still a better environmental deal. I'd like to see the math on that.

Fourth, I too have noticed the cool color of a typical CFL. I think there's a web site out there that rates the various CFLs and their candlelight rating - the higher the rating, the cooler the light. I saw a suggestion to stay under 3000. What is that site, if anyone knows?

Regardless, I have incandescents throughout my home but am really looking forward to the LED revolution.

Posted by: Erik on 21 Feb 06

when are we gonna get a cfl that works with a dimmer switch?

Posted by: myke on 21 Feb 06

i don't think the led revolution is going to come too soon personally. led light is very direct (like halogens) and if my memory serves me right still not as efficient as cfls (ya, they are efficient, but if you want to put out equiv. of 100W of light i think led's efficiency drops off, whereas a cfl is only like 16 W or something like that... that's all i k now...

i think this is a good idea, although i agree and think also that incandescent should be not banned, but made the more expensive bulb, so almost the opposite, ie. 3 or so times the price. then for specific applications people can still get them but economically cfls will win (economically at the store, not life cycle). I find the cfls that we use aren't too bad, think some are a lot nicer with a slight tint in the frosted glasss?

Posted by: pw on 21 Feb 06

read this here for a quick summary... think it's pretty up to date

Posted by: pw on 21 Feb 06

I picked up 20 CFLs a couple of weeks ago. Haven't installed them all yet, because the fine print warns that they won't last as long in enclosed light fixtures, which is what I have at home. As well, the brighter CFLs are bigger than the bulbs they are replacing, and they don't fit my current floor lamps.

So, good idea but not always a simple drop-in replacement.

Posted by: Robert on 22 Feb 06

OK it's not dimmable CFL but at least a start: This company, Fifth Light has foudn a way to make fluorescent lighting DIMMABLE!!!!! Wooo Hoooo!!!!

Posted by: lee on 22 Feb 06

This is a noble effort; the city of Seattle did something similar last year, mailing out one compact fluorescent bulb to every household. But if my experience is anything typical, this still won't convince people to switch: CF bulbs don't seem to actually last any longer than incandescents, so there's no checkout-line savings, and they put out a greenish, unsettling light. My girlfriend complained when I installed a CF bulb in the bathroom, since she thought it made her look unwell. I can't even consider switching completely, no matter how much money I could save on the cost of electricity, since my place would feel weird and uncomfortable under all-fluorescent light.

I like the idea of the CF bulb, but it bothers me that people are pushing them as a full alternative to incandescent bulbs when they just aren't ready yet. I fear that people will try them, get turned off, and then become skeptical of energy-saving measures and environmental tech in general. What's the holdup? CF bulbs today seem to be pretty much the same thing they were when they came out a few years ago; who's working on the next generation, and when are they going to show up?

Posted by: Mars Saxman on 22 Feb 06

I wonder if some of the people commenting on here about fluorescents being off-color are referring to regular fluorescent lights or compact fluorescents (CFLs). Regular tubes usually have a blue-hue and low quality ones flicker, but I've never had a CFL that has anything other than perfect light and never flickers. Especially nothing like the green sickly hue that was mentioned. Maybe it's because I make sure to buy GE bulbs rather than the generics seen in the store. Don't take out the problems or regular FL on CFLS!

Posted by: Lonetree on 22 Feb 06

Great idea, but dare I ask; why Oprah?

My first reaction.

Posted by: Chad Weinman on 22 Feb 06

We're asking Oprah because she already did a show this fall on global warming with leo dicaprio and dr. michael oppenheimer of princeton, where she asked people to go out and to buy these bulbs- so she seems to be the natural person to ask, but we would love to work with absolutely anyone who cares about our kids' future on this project!!! -Mr. L

Posted by: Kenny on 22 Feb 06

Hm. Mars must have got some really cheap, poorly made ones because CFLs that I bought have lasted for 5 years despite daily switching. There is just no comparison between the lifespan of incandescents and CFLs.

CFLs are much yellower than old fluorescent tubes, but even new, quality CFLs cast a slightly harsher, bluer light (Sort of more like natural sunlight really.) than incandesents. I've long since gotten used to this. That's why I suggested to friends to mix them until they got used to the light quality.

CFLs are ready for primetime and have been for more than 10 years. The only thing that holds back their widespread adoption is cost (which includes disposal.).

Posted by: Pace Arko on 22 Feb 06

No one has yet answered the question of recycling. I don't know where to recycle them, even though I live in an urban area, and if I have to drive 10 mi to the place that the county recycles old paint cans, has any energy been saved?

Posted by: Barry on 22 Feb 06

In Seattle, Bartell Drugs will take them off your hands for a fee. Northwest Product Stewardship Council has a list of retail locations that will take them, usually for a fee or a purchase.

I'm sure if you consult a search engine with the right terms, you'll find something similar in your area.

Posted by: Pace Arko on 22 Feb 06

A solution to the recycling problem could be similar to that in place for ink-jet cartridges. I have a Dell ink-jet printer, and the cartridges are not available in stores, so I have to order by mail any time I need a replacement. The new one comes along with a postage-paid envelope for sending the old one back.

Thinking out loud...

Mark Brandon
Sustainable Log - News and Views for Socially Responsible Investors
When you subscribe to Sustainable Log, we give $1 to Alternative Gifts International in support of a cause of your choice.

Posted by: Mark Brandon on 23 Feb 06

my only question - has anyone done the math regarding how much fossile fuel will be burned by the trucks/trains/vans to distribute 50 million bulbs across the US? I guess Oprah could just right a check to Home Depot and have students pick them up, you know, like, whenever...

Posted by: Mike B on 23 Feb 06

(Hi folks -- just wanted to let you know that we changed the date to bump this post to the top of the page briefly for a presentation.)

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 23 Feb 06

Unless I am reading the tables totally wrong, I think starting from the third product down, these are dimmable CFLs. Please let me know if I'm wrong!

Posted by: Sydney on 23 Feb 06

I just don't get people; in the face of saving money, reducing pollution, reducing outputs of greenhouse gases, and reducing our dependence on foriegn oil (yes, where I live they use diesel generators to produce electricity) they won't switch to CFLs until they are perfect replacements for incandencent bulbs. Do we really have to wait until electricty bills are through the roof, the sea level has risen 7 meters, more people have died of lung cancer, and there are more wars over oil to make the huge sacrifice of switching to CFLs?

My experience is that CFLs do last much longer than incandecent bulbs, and the light is not green.

For goodness sakes, how about at least everyone in the country replacing one garage light or security light and save the country billions and reduce pollution by a significant amount. Is putting in one CFL somewhere in one's house that hard? Is it that inconvienent? Are we really that spoiled?

I won't ask you to turn off your printer if you're not using it, you might think I'm obsessed.


Posted by: Tavita on 26 Feb 06

Ok, on a less negative note, I have done a quick search on the mercury in a CFL compared to mercury generated by incandescent bulbs using electricity from coal fired power plants. The source I found, an EPA fact sheet, says that a CFL has 4mg of mercury and that the electricity used by a CFL (if it comes from coal) will generate an additional 2.4mg of mercury; a total of 6.4mg of mercury (assuming the CFL is not recycled or disposed of properly). However, the amount of mercury generated to use a comparable incandescent light bulb is 10mg of mercury.

There you have it, if the source of electricity is a coal fired generator, CFLs would be responsible for less mercury in the environment if they were used instead of incandescent bulbs. And if CFLs are recycled or disposed of properly (thrown out in a sealed plastic bag) they are an even better choice.

Here's the source of the info:


Posted by: Tavita on 27 Feb 06

With regard to the recycling of CFLs, the EPA fact sheet mentioned above has the following info,

Resources for Recycling or Proper Disposal of CFLs. (Note: Residential recycling programs are not yet available in most regions.)

1. (or call 1-800-CLEAN-UP for an automated hotline): Online, enter your zip code, press GO, click "Household Hazardous Waste" then "fluorescent light bulb disposal." The site will identify your nearest residential mercury recycling facility or mail disposal method. If you find no specific information on CFL disposal go back and click on the link for "Mercury Containing Items."

2. Call your local government of the Web site and Hotline number above does not have your local information. Look on the Internet or in the phone book for your local or municipal government entity responsible for waste collection or household hazardous waste.

I hope this helps. I checked out the website and it came up with a lot of options for a trial zip code I entered.


Posted by: Tavita on 27 Feb 06

This could be a government sponsored project? Why not.

Posted by: Big Dog on 28 Feb 06



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