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Earth Sense: Resolve to contribute to cleaner energy
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New Year’s resolutions are fun, and some are even followed through. Big items, like losing 30 pounds or getting a huge promotion, may be too much of a stretch. But we can do something to help North Georgia stay clean and beautiful without much effort.

For example, there are the light bulbs in the house. Old-style incandescents consume too much power for the amount of lighting they provide. This goes especially for automatic outdoor floodlights that have a habit of coming on for every rabbit running across the yard.

Check the labels. The halogen type can use as much as 300 watts. There are LED solutions that provide super-bright lighting at a fraction of the operating cost.

Inside the home, we have been told for many years to replace older bulbs with compact fluorescents, a.k.a. “spiral bulbs.” But every CFL contains mercury. If one breaks indoors, the EPA recommends two hours of evacuation, and cleaning up while wearing protective clothing. Who needs that hassle?

LEDs cost more, but they don’t contain poisonous mercury and come in a choice of warm white, cool white and daylight color.

Phasing out the spiral bulbs raises another concern. Imagine every household in Gainesville putting them in the trash. Let’s assume a total of 250,000 bulbs. With 4 milligrams of mercury in each bulb, which isn’t very much (an old glass tube thermometer contains 500 milligrams), this totals 1 million milligrams, or exactly 1 kilogram of mercury dumped in Hall County’s landfills. Now we’re talking about a significant amount.

In seven states, Georgia not included, it’s illegal to dispose of CFLs in the trash. But fortunately, recycling is getting more widespread here, too. Home Depot is one of the growing number of companies who accept old spiral bulbs for recycling.

Unfortunately, I know of no consumer venue for disposing of the long tube-style bulbs, which are also used in home garages, basements and workshops. Those contain mercury as well, usually in greater amounts than the small CFLs.

It has been argued by reputable organizations, such as the National Geographic Society, that a broken bulb poses only a minimal hazard, which is true. But thousands of bulbs accumulating in landfills are a concern. A good New Year’s resolution would be to gradually replace them with LEDs and take old CFLs to a business that recycles them.


Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor of physical science and director of sustainability at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at