Got your CFL yet? By now, most Portlanders have at least seen them. From the full-page color ads (complete with coupons) to the displays at the local hardware store, compact fluorescent lightbulbs are one of the coolest hot items among green-leaning and cost-conscious consumers.
"Over the past two months, ...we can't keep 'em in stock," said a clerk at the Jantzen Beach Home Depot. No wonder. This summer's energy scare prompted PGE and several lighting companies to push CFLs, which screw into standard incandescent bulb sockets but use 75 percent less energy and can last 13 times longer. (Starting at $7 a bulb, they're also way more expensive). However, amid all the hoopla lies a four-milligram problem: That's the amount of mercury inside each sealed glass capsule.
The 80th element on the periodic table poses no risk
while a bulb is in use, but if it leaks out when a bulb breaks it can cause a number of nasty neurological maladies. In fact, Oregon lawmakers were so concerned that this summer they passed a law to reduce mercury in products, such as thermometers and thermostats, for which there exist viable alternatives. CFLs are legal since the mercury in them is needed to help conduct electricity. "The person who designs an energy-efficient light without the use of mercury will be a rich person," says Rick Volpel, a hazardous-waste specialist at the Department of Environmental Quality.
Although Minnesota has made it illegal for residential users to toss CFLs in the trash, it's allowed in other states, including Oregon.
Lisa Weiss, pesticides and toxics program director at the Oregon Environmental Council, says Oregon should consider a ban of CFL dumping. "It would change people's behavior," she says.
Conscientious consumers currently have only two options for safe disposal of CFLs. Metro will collect them (as well as thermometers, thermostats and batteries) for recycling at its Northwest Portland and Oregon City drop-off sites; call 234-3000 for details. Earth Protection Services (620-2466) will also accept CFLs from residential users at its Lake Oswego site.