Another warrior in fight to keep Earth cool: the fluorescent bulb

• According to Washington Department of Ecology, compact fluorescent light bulbs use mercury vapor to create light, whereas incandescent bulbs heat a small wire until it glows hot, making light. About 90 percent of the energy produced by an incandescent bulb is wasted as heat.

Gail McLendon

Light goes on

• According to Washington Department of Ecology, compact fluorescent light bulbs use mercury vapor to create light, whereas incandescent bulbs heat a small wire until it glows hot, making light. About 90 percent of the energy produced by an incandescent bulb is wasted as heat.

• Compact fluorescent light bulbs can be bought for about $5 (coupons are also available) and recycled at McLendon Hardware, 440 Rainier Ave. S.

• To find out where else to recycle CFLs and other materials, visit Washington State Department of Ecology’s Web site, http://1800recycle.wa.gov, or call 1-800-RECYCLE (1-800-732-9253).

• For more information about the Take it Back Network, visit http://takeitbacknetwork.org.

The star of an Earth Day press conference at McLendon Hardware Tuesday wasn’t a person. It was a light bulb. Not Edison’s bulb invented 129 years ago, but the newer, better bulb whose corkscrews of fluorescent light resemble a soft-serve ice cream.

Jay Manning, director of Washington state Department of Ecology, hosted the news conference, attended by representatives from McLendon Hardware, Puget Sound Energy, Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation, Northwest Product Stewardship Council and Washington State Rep. Sam Hunt.

From a climate-change perspective, the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) is “wonderful,” Manning said Tuesday.

The curly bulbs are up to four times more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs, using 50 to 80 percent less energy, and lasting up to 10 times longer. This reduction in electricity saves people money and reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released, reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if every American replaced just one light bulb with a fluorescent bulb, enough energy would be saved to light more than 3 million homes for a year; save more than $600 million in annual energy costs and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to more than 800,000 cars.

President Bush signed a Congress energy bill in December mandating a phase-in to energy-saving bulbs starting in 2012.

The EPA says CFLs represented 20 percent of the market in 2007, up from 11 percent in 2006. McLendon Hardware sold 84,000 of the bulbs just last year.

But CFLs also pose a “potential problem,” Manning said Tuesday. That problem is how to properly dispose of the bulbs. Each CFL contains a small amount of mercury — about five milligrams, or enough to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen, according to Washington Department of Ecology. Mercury is a toxin that affects the nervous system. Mercury can contaminate soil or water if leaked from a light bulb, which can happen if the bulb gets crushed in the trash.

That potential for contamination is what makes recycling CFLs so important, Manning said. A recent Washington state Department of Ecology study revealed only about 20 percent — or two out of every 10 CFLs in Washington are properly recycled. Manning said he hopes the new Take it Back Network will bring that number to 10 out of 10.

“I’d like to raise that to 100 percent,” he said Tuesday. “There’s no reason we can’t get that to 100 percent by 2015, if not sooner.”

McLendon’s is part of Take it Back Network, which is a group of retailers and other organizations helping to recycle toxic or hazardous materials.

That network will soon be expanded, Manning announced Tuesday. He said Washington Department of Ecology awarded a Public Participation Grant to the Product Stewardship Institute and the Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation to work with stakeholders to develop a fluorescent lighting recycling program for Washington. He said he expects results from those dialogues to be presented to the state Legislature for consideration in the 2009 session.

Manning announced other good news at Tuesday’s Earth Day conference.

Various businesses, schools, trade associations, local governments, nongovernmental organizations and volunteers have prevented more than 12,000 pounds of mercury from escaping into Washington’s environment over the past five years. That’s when the state Mercury Education and Reduction Act (MERA) was passed and Washington Department of Ecology began tracking mercury reductions as part of the Mercury Chemical Action Plan.

According to the Washington Department of Ecology, the amount of mercury released each year in Washington has dropped by about 2,500 pounds since 2001. Mercury has been reduced by banning certain types of thermometers and recycling and collecting it from bulbs, dental and medical waste and button cell batteries.

Manning called the mercury collection “wildly successful.” He recognized 14 “Quicksilver Champions” at Tuesday’s event. Those champions are companies that have worked to collect or reduce mercury. Companies such as AAA Washington, which has worked to remove and replace car switches that contain mercury. Switches like the one that turns on a car’s inside light when the door opens.

Tuesday’s event took place next to a cart of the fluorescent bulbs, in all shapes and brightnesses. McLendon’s also carries a variety of other earth-friendly products, many on display Tuesday.

“We want you to buy these, but please don’t throw them away,” Manning said while holding a curly bulb Tuesday.

It’s illegal to throw away CFLs in King County, he said.

Now Renton residents don’t have to wait for community recycling events to get rid of those bulbs, McLendon Hardware President Gail McLendon said Tuesday. They can simply dispose of the bulbs at McLendon’s.

“Now every day can be Earth Day at McLendon’s,” she said.

Emily Garland can be reached at emily.garland@reporternewspapers.com or (425) 255-3484, ext. 5052.

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