Across the world, consumers are being urged to stop buying dated incandescent light bulbs and switch to new spiral fluorescent bulbs, which use about 25 percent of the energy and last 10 times longer. In Britain, there is a Ban the Bulb movement. China is encouraging the change. And the U.S. Congress has set new energy efficiency standards that will make Edison's magical invention obsolete by the year 2014. Now, the question is how to dispose of these compact fluorescent bulbs once they break or quit working. Unlike traditional light bulbs, each of these spiral bulbs has a tiny bit of a dangerous toxin - around 5 milligrams of mercury. And although one dot of mercury might not seem so bad, almost 300 million compact fluorescents were sold in the United States last year. That is already a lot of mercury to throw in the trash, and the amounts will grow ever larger in coming years. Businesses and government recyclers need to start working on more efficient ways to deal with that added mercury. Ellen Silbergeld, a professor of environmental health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, is raising the cry about the moment when millions of these light bulbs start landing in landfills or incinerators all at once. The pig in the waste pipeline, she calls it. Even when warned, public officials are never great at planning. The Environmental Protection Agency focuses mostly on the disposal of one bulb at a time. If you break a fluorescent bulb, there is no need to call in the hazmat team, the agency says. Just clean it up quickly with paper (no vacuuming or brooms), and open the window for a 15-minute douse of fresh air. Tuck the debris into a plastic sack and, if there is no special recycling nearby, discard it in the regular trash. Interestingly, one of the main reasons to use these bulbs is that when they cut down on energy use, they also cut down on mercury emissions from power plants. And even with their mercury innards, these bulbs are still better for the environment than the old ones

CFL consists of a long glass tube fitted with electrodes. The tube is filled with mercury vapour and gas (argon or xenon). The glass tube's interior is coated with phosphor. When electricity is supplied, electrons are released from the electrodes, which excite the mercury atoms causing them to emit ultraviolet (UV) light.


1. CHANGE YOUR BULBS Replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps (cfl)

The ubiquitous but highly inefficient 60-watt light bulb badly needs a makeover. And it could be worth millions in government prize money

To change the bulbs in the 60-foot-high ceiling lights of Buckingham Palace

Walk around the floor of Lightfair International, the lighting industry

China plans to close 15 gigawatts (GW) of small coal-fired power generators this year, as part of measures to improve energy efficiency and reduce pollution, the National Development and Reform Commission said on Monday.

If the goal is achieved, the country will close a total of nearly 50 GW by the end of this year that had been planned for the five years through 2010.

Two local companies that assemble quality energy saving lights are threatened with imported substandard and low-cost bulbs, which reportedly fall short of saving energy to the expected extent, amid a recent rise in demand for such bulbs.

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