Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Let There Be Light

   I think it's fair to say that everyone has experienced a night time power outage. We scramble to get candles and spend the next period of time frustrated and bored because it is so difficult to see. Imagine what the world was like before the introduction of the electric light bulb. It wasn't until the 1800's that lightbulbs were mass produced and electricity was available in most homes. Prior to that people read, sewed, ate and lived by candlelight or light from oil lamps.

Flash forward more than 200 years and we find ourselves strapped with the unfortunate burden of what was originally viewed as the invention of the century. Oh, don't misunderstand me, I know that the lightbulb revolutionized the industrial age. That being said, the lightbulb in it's original version has created some pretty serious environmental issues that many people are not aware of. The EPA considers incandescent lightbulbs to be the third most environmentally harmful product on the market today.

The typical lightbulb up until recently was an incandescent lightbulb. A small wire called a filament is tightly wound between two electrical sources. As the electrical current passes across the filament, heat is generated causing the gases inside the bulb to glow. These gases are an inert gas called Argon and the more toxic Mercury. The length of the filament determines the brightness of the bulb because they can tolerate a higher wattage to be passed across it. These filaments eventually burn out leaving behind a pressurized "jar" if you will, of some stuff that's pretty bad for the environment. Compared to other types of electric lighting, they have a rather short lifespan making them in the end more expensive and more harmful to the environment because so many more are needed over any period of time.

Fluorescent bulbs have been used commercially for a long time in the form of tube style bulbs. There is no filament and much less mercury in fluorescent bulbs. The glass tube is heated using a much smaller amount of electricity. This excites the fluorescent coating on the inside of the glass causing it to glow.The brightness of these bulbs are measured in "lumen" instead of wattage. Up until fairly recently, fluorescent bulbs gave off a harsh unpleasant light. It was hard on the eyes, often flickered and required time for the bulb to "heat" up before reaching it's full brightness. This made it very undesirable for residential use.

Now, however, the technology has changed. Fluorescents are now softer in color, do not require time to warm up and do not flicker. As a result, more consumers are willing to switch over to the safer option. That being said, 600,000 incandescent bulbs are still going into landfills every year. This creates 30,000 pounds of mercury leeched into the environment every year. The CO2 used to create incandescents has been shown to have significantly impacted the ozone layer. Incandescents use 60-75% more electricity per hour used than household fluorescents. 

Overall, this makes them the much smarter choice for the environment. although these facts should drive consumers to make the simple switch, people are still not convinced. Most are driven away by the face value cost of compact fluorescents. They fail to realize that dollar per hour, fluorescents are 25% cheaper than incandescents because they are 4 times more efficient.

 They are also a much smarter choice for your electric bill.  In response to environmental concerns the federal government has started enforcing some energy efficiency standards due to start in 2012. This will force lighting companies to produce lightbulbs that are 25% more energy efficient. It will not eliminate the production of incandescents but will at least make them a bit more environmentally friendly and cost effective. The change will save consumers 6 billion dollars in energy costs over the next 3 years.

So what can be done? Well the easiest solution is obvious and yet shockingly overlooked. Turn out the lights! It sounds simple but it is surprising how many of us take for granted the cost of lighting a room we are not in. Like I said, 200 years ago you were surrounded only by candlelight making it difficult to even see across the room.

The other solution is just as simple. Change your incandescents to compact fluorescents. Budget the increase in cost into your groceries one room at a time if you feel like the cost is too great. Here are some things that may encourage you. If every household replaces ONE lightbulb with a fluorescent, it is equivalent to taking 85,000 cars of the road. If everyone in California were to do this, they would reduce energy costs by 600,000 kilowatt hours a year. It would keep 1 billion lightbulbs out of landfills and keep 974,000 pounds of CO2 from being released into the environment reducing global warming and that is just in ONE state!

The question of what to do with all of those incandescents still out there still remains. Honestly, there isn't much that can be done. Sooner or later they will break and the gas will be released into the environment. There are some interesting craft projects out there but there is a certain risk to working with this type of material. Here are a few of the more clever ones.

Pretty little oil lamps

beautiful covers for small white twinkle lights

mini geraniums or vases

We, at Earthlove, are on a mission to pass on information about how to be a little kinder to the planet. We also have a full line of earth friendly products made from repurposed materials. Please check us out at:


  1. Thank you for sharing this, I now know that there are other uses for these used up bulbs.