In burning fossil fuels such as coal to supply electricity to homes and workplaces, power plants discharge clouds of soot and other pollutants into the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide and mercury.
Traditional incandescent light bulbs turn only about 10 percent of the energy they consume into emitted light. The remaining 90 percent of energy used by incandescent light bulbs is wasted as heat. The traditional incandescent bulb is more of a ‘heat bulb’.
Clearly, manufacturing light bulbs that turn more of their energy into light than heat is a move in the right direction. Ultimately, LED light bulbs will be used but until costs and design improvements enable LEDs to provide brighter ambient lighting, CFL light bulbs are the most cost-effective way to improve up on the traditional incandescent light bulb.
Many people are leery of CFLs because they require mercury to operate, but the amount inside those bulbs is tiny compared to the mercury emitted by coal-fired plants that power conventional incandescent bulbs. An incandescent bulb can emit as much as 18 mg of mercury into the air over its lifespan; a CFL emits 9 mg (including the mercury both in the bulb and that emitted by power plants).
To find a CFL light bulb recycling center, go here and enter your zip code.