What You Should Know About Energy Efficient Lighting

John Gilkeson
Prevention and Assistance Division, MN Pollution Control Agency

More and more, people are asking if they should purchase and use energy-efficient lighting in their homes. The answer is definitely “YES,” because doing so will save money, reduce electrical consumption, contribute to energy conservation and reduce the environmental impacts and pollution associated with all aspects of electricity production. Conservation is the least expensive and cleanest “supply” of new energy.

While there are many benefits to using energy-efficient lighting, it is important to note that most of these bulbs-including all fluorescent, mercury vapor, metal halide, and most high pressure sodium lamps-contain mercury. With today’s technology, mercury is an essential part of these lamps because mercury vapor is electrically charged within the lamp to create light. Lamps and packaging are labeled to inform consumers that the lamps or bulbs contain mercury. The minimum label for mercury is “Hg.” Some manufacturers provide additional information on mercury content and its recycling, including toll-free numbers or websites.

To realize the full environmental benefits of energy-efficient lighting that contains mercury, use these lamps and recycle them in order to minimize the overall release of mercury to the environment. Minnesota has one of the best collection and recycling systems in the country for household mercury-containing lamps. In 1993, Minnesota was the first state in the nation to pass a law that requires recycling of all mercury-containing lamps. Across the state there are permanent Household Hazardous Waste facilities, event collections and hardware store collections offered that will collect mercury containing lamps or bulbs. See the Resource Box for more information.

The expense for recycling a fluorescent bulb is currently 25 cents to one dollar. This may seem high when compared to the purchase price of a new fluorescent bulb; however, users have saved $50 or more in electricity and replacement costs over the life of that fluorescent bulb. Consequently, the recycling cost is one-half to two percent of the total money saved.

If you happen to break a fluorescent bulb in your home, keep people and pets out of the room for about 15 minutes and open exterior windows and doors to vent mercury vapor. If two or more fluorescent lights (or other mercury-containing device) break and you are unsure what to do, call the Minnesota Duty Officer 24 hours a day at 800-422-0798. The Duty Officer will put you in touch with someone who can advise on cleanup. For more detailed information on cleanup see the resource box.

Tips and Types of Fluorescent Lamps:

  • For equivalent brightness, buy a fluorescent bulb that is rated at 20-25% of the incandescent wattage you are replacing. For example, a 13 watt fluorescent will replace a 60 watt incandescent.
  • Pay attention to the “color” or “tone” of the lamp. Warm White lamps are closest to incandescent bulbs and have a color temperature of 2700 K. Soft White lamps have a color temperature of 3000 K and often are not labeled. You may find these to be too white or too bright. Daylight (3500 K), Cool White (4000 K), and Full Spectrum (5000 K-6500 K) bulbs can be very white/bright and may not be a good fit for some lighting fixtures and locations.
  • If you have three way light fixtures or dimmer switches that you want to keep, you’ll need to shop around for three-way or dimmable fluorescent bulbs of the appropriate wattage and color temperature. Always install these with the base down.
  • Some lighting fixtures may not accept the commonly available shapes and sizes of fluorescent bulbs, so you may need to invest in new fixtures.
  • Outdoors: Look for lamps rated for outdoor use, since standard fluorescents do not work well at low temperatures.

In summary, fluorescent lamps are a good environmental and economic choice as long as they are recycled at the end of their life. Choose the size, wattage, and color temperature of your new lamps carefully to ensure that you are satisfied with the new lamp. The light from the new lamps will be different from the incandescent light that you are accustomed to. Handle lamps carefully to prevent breakage, and use the packaging from new lamps to store your old lamps until they can be recycled.

Read Up

Broken Lamp Clean-Up fact sheet. To obtain a hard copy call MPCA at 651-296-6300, pca.state.mn.us/publications/w-hhw4-30.pdf

Act Locally

Lamp Recycling Facilities

The Price to Pay for Fluorescent Lighting

Compiled by  Do It Green! Minnesota

Lamp manufacturers believe that price is a major barrier to more widespread use of CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps). Consequently, they have outsourced production from the United States to China and other developing countries. As a result, US workers lose jobs while US manufacturing capacity disappears. In addition, worker safety and environmental protection requirements are less stringent, and lamp quality and durability may be lower. Labor organizations point to manufacturer ‘double standards’ for lamps sold in the US and European markets. Most lamps sold in Europe are manufactured in Europe, where as many lamps sold in the United States are manufactured in China and other developing countries.
For more information on this issue, visit the website screwthatbulb.org.

Energy Efficient Lighting

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