An Illuminated Path to Conserving the Environment

By Jake Bazinet, 15

Broken Bulbs

The environmental and financial costs of fluorescent lights means that they should be eliminated from schools during future renovations.

Eventually, Edward Little High School will see major renovations. When it does, the school should eliminate fluorescent bulbs. The technology, such as the tube lights the school uses or the compact fluorescent bulbs that many people have in their homes, does have benefits, like lower energy costs and long life spans, but at the end of their life spans the bulbs harm the environment.

Confounding variables such as mercury and improper disposal raises the question of whether fluorescent bulbs are in fact beneficial. If not disposed of properly, toxic chemicals are emitted into the environment. It is important to ensure precautions are taken in the disposal of fluorescent bulbs. Safer and less harmful technologies, such as LED lightbulbs, should be used when schools such as Edward Little are renovated.

Fluorescent bulbs do not pose any health risks if disposed of properly. However, studies suggest a portion of the public does not recycle them properly. In a study on Household CFL Recycling in Maine, conducted by ecomaine.org, 520 Maine residents were surveyed regarding the use of CFL lightbulbs; 28.9 percent of respondents noted that they did not recycle CFL lightbulbs and 63.2 percent of the respondents noted that they did not know CFLs are required to be recycled. The data also indicated that many respondents were unaware of recycling locations. This data suggests that a high percentage of CFLs are disposed of improperly, releasing mercury into landfills. Citizens should be further informed of recycling options upon purchase of CFLs. Informative advertisements and organizations need to be funded to educate the public of these dangers.

CFLs contain four to six milligrams of mercury, equivalent to the tip of a ballpoint pen. If disposed of improperly, a CFL can contaminate 6,000 gallons of water. According to the Sustainability Institute at Penn State in The Hazards of Use and Disposal of Compact Fluorescent Bulbs, mercury is an “essential, irreplaceable element” in CFL light bulbs. However, even if CFLs are properly disposed of, a high recycling cost is passed on to the taxpayer. According to Maine Light Bulb Recycling: LD 973, Maine taxpayers save 4.5 million dollars by using CFLs per year. However, the cost to recycle a single bulb is anywhere from 1 to 2 dollars according to lamprecycle.org. With the use of LED lightbulbs, recycling costs are not passed on to taxpayers, they do not contain mercury, and they have a much longer lifespan than CFLs. Put in perspective, while using CFLs the taxpayer isn’t saving as much as expected when the high cost of recycling is taken into account and compared to the costs of using an LED bulb.

Other technologies such as LED lights, which do not contain mercury, should be considered as a viable replacement at Edward Little. The usage of fluorescent bulbs is either hurting the taxpayer or destroying the environment and Edward Little should take the renovation opportunity to make this positive and important change.

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