Monday, April 28, 2008

Please don’t throw away your incandescent bulbs

I recently heard a well-meaning and very enthusiastic college student advise passersby to “Throw away those old bulbs! CFLs are good for the planet!” She made this declaration from behind a table containing a display about bulbs and she handed out coupons to encourage people to make the switch. I’ve read and heard this advice before, but I caution readers to stay their hands and keep their incandescent bulbs.
If you’re like most people, you don’t buy light bulbs one at a time. You probably have a few sitting in a closet somewhere, waiting to replace burned-out bulbs as they expire. You also likely have a bunch of them in sockets around your home. This collection of incandescent bulbs is full of embodied energy, a kind environmental sunk-cost.
Embodied energy exists in everything that has already been manufactured or built- houses, cars, televisions, bicycles, &c, and obviously, incandescent light bulbs. Energy was spent in extracting all of the raw materials, in processing those into the inputs that make the product, in actually manufacturing the product, and in getting it from the place of manufacture to the consumer, likely with some stops along the way. Like time, there’s no way to get energy back, once it’s been spent.
Since those incandescent bulbs, whether in the light socket or in the recycling bin, have already spent a considerable amount of energy, it’s an unnecessary waste of energy to simply pitch them. Instead, let them live out their short lives, and replace them with something better when they go out.


Sue said...

Good point, erd. We began about five years ago, replacing bulbs one at a time as they burned out. Almost all our bulbs have been replaced now -- I have one lamp left that still has incandescents, and one overhead fixture that is almost never turned on.

Also, newer, less expensive compact flourescents are not as long lived as some of the costlier versions. We've already had five compact flourescents burn out in the most heavily used fixtures, and are becoming concerned because our rural region does not have any nearby disposal for toxic household wastes (which compact flourescents are).

E. R. Dunhill said...

The mercury is indeed an issue. It's just something we're beginning to address in earnest in my community. For those readers who live near an IKEA, many of their stores offer CFL recycling.
Elsewhere, it can be difficult to find a proper home for that Hg, but some local governments are stepping up. I've read from a few (loosely organized) interests that are trying to push Wal-Mart to offer in-store CFL recycling. I'd love to see this happen.

Pat Jenkins said...

burn 'em if you got 'em that's my motto!!!

E. R. Dunhill said...

The global carrying capacity for PJs is apparently in the single digits.