“Let them eat cake!” was the instantly recognizable phrase that Marie Antoinette may or may not have declared to her closest confidants upon learning that French peasants were faced with a deficit of bread. Of course, it all depends on which history book you open. An iconic and unarguably holy phrase that no one will argue, however, is “Let there be light,” perhaps because it appears as the third verse in countless biblical texts circulated around the globe. Cake is pretty fantastic, but thank goodness for light. If we didn’t have the latter, we couldn’t easily make the former (at least not in the midst of a midnight craving). We really have an English chemist named Humphry Davy to thank for propelling us forward from comparably prehistoric raw flames, candles and oil-burning lamps to the very first electric arc light bulb in 1809. A series of lighting tweaks ensued throughout the next 70 years, in which equally inspired minds such as Warren De La Rue, James Bowman Lindsay and Henricg Globel, to Hermann Sprengel, Sir Joseph Wilson Swan and finally Thomas Alva Edison wowed the world with their new-generation light bulbs. It’s hard to grasp just how wonderful life is without the constant threat of your house burning down, but think about what must have happened BLB (before light bulbs). Just one windy day and one burning candle could equal a char-grilled and no longer home sweet home. Light bulbs have pretty much become one of the top societal advances of all time, aside from the instant gratification of reaching into a bag of presliced bread. In particular, our love affair with incandescent bulbs has lasted for the better part of 150-plus years, but all good things must come to an end, especially when they’re not especially energy efficient. Such is the case with our once beloved standard bulbs, which due to widespread governmental legislation focused on reduced energy consumption, have finally been pushed aside in favor of their comely, curly cousin, the compact fluorescent light (CFL). The new kid on the block has a lot going for it, namely a shelf life of more than 10 times that of conventional bulbs, all while consuming 75% less energy. But… there’s a big but. In addition to CFLs being costly up front, they don’t reach full “pole position” illumination right out of the gate, and each unit contains 5 milligrams of mercury. All three drawbacks can admittedly be justified and even accepted given the overall energy savings that these bulbs offer, but the mercury issue is of particular concern because, well, it’s a toxic compound and American consumers just aren’t making enough of an effort to properly recycle CFL bulbs that have burnt out or accidentally shattered. Enter Maine. As it turns out, it is the first official state in the U.S. to pass a law mandating that manufacturers of CFLs take responsibility for the expense and trouble of recycling their newfangled eco-products. What that means is that they must now foot the bill for all CFL recycling collection and processing efforts in the state rather than cross their fingers in the hope that American consumers will experience their own light bulb moment (pun certainly intended). They’re not the only one. In mid-2008, Massachusetts made it illegal to deposit any mercury-containing lighting devices into landfills or incinerators, instead requiring that businesses collect all inoperable bulbs in one receptacle before handing them over to a legitimate CFL recycler and households deliver their spent light bulbs to designated collection sites across the state. Even Vermont has followed suit by adopting its own CFL ban. In addition to creating a consumer education program that explains how improperly disposed CFLs are ultimately responsible for ecological harm, the state has also detailed precisely which types of bulbs contain the neurotoxin responsible for migrating into the fish population and ultimately humans. Making it incredibly convenient for consumers to recycle their CFLs, Vermont-based Ace, True Value and Do It Best hardware stores have become official drop-off zones. How long until our remaining 47 states get with the CFL recycling program? Here’s hoping that they see the light sooner than later. For information on CFL drop-off locations in your state, see 1-800-RECYCLING’s recycling location finder.
New England Illumination: CFL Recycling Light Bulb Moment
Three states in the Northeast have passed legislation ensuring that energy-efficient but toxin-containing CFL bulbs do not end up in landfills.