Last Updated on June 29, 2022 by Rebecca Huff
The new lighting standards went into effect over a decade ago, in 2007. More recently, the reach of the law was expanded to include incandescent reflector bulbs, candle shape bulbs, and certain other specialty bulbs.
The world discards approximately 670 million fluorescent bulbs yearly according to estimates. This in spite of recycling programs, releasing 4 tons of mercury each year into our environment.
Why all the debate about bulbs?
So what's the deal with light bulb options? Why so much controversy about something that has been around since the late 1800s? Are the newer bulbs better for the environment or are they a threat to our health?
Incandescent bulbs are the basic style of bulb invented by Thomas Edison. A tungsten wire filament is wrapped in a tight coil through which electricity passes, heating to a very high temperature.
Because of this heat, which is mostly lost energy, incandescent bulbs are considered less efficient than other types of bulbs.
Incandescent bulbs emit a broad spectrum of light which has a positive impact on our circadian rhythms somewhat like sunlight.
Incandescents last about a year. To recycle an incandescent light bulb, drop it off at your local recycling center. If broken, traditional incandescent bulbs can go in with regular household trash.
A slight improvement on the incandescent is the halogen bulb. A halogen is an incandescent lamp that consists of a tungsten filament sealed into a compact transparent envelope. This filament section is filled with a mixture of an inert gas and a small amount of a halogen such as iodine or bromine.
Halogen bulbs use about 30% less energy and last around three times as long as the traditional incandescent.
When halogen bulbs break they can be tossed in regular household waste. These bulbs could be safely recycled, although many are not recyclable due to the fine wires. When in doubt, ask your local recycling center.
Compact Fluorescent Light (CFLs)
The curled compact fluorescent bulb which was designed to use up to 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs, is said to last for many years. Some manufacturers claim their CFLs last up to ten years. These CFL bulbs are slow to brighten, and the light quality isn't as warm as an incandescent.
CFLs bad reputation
CFLs have a bit of a bad reputation. According to some studies fluorescent light has generates free radicals within cells.
Compact bulbs are also said to generate radio frequency radiation. According to Dr. Magda Havas.
Governments around the world are banning energy inefficient light bulbs in an attempt to reduce consumption of fossil fuels and the emission of greenhouse gases. However, the energy efficient light bulbs that are currently available may be harming both the environment (mercury content of bulbs is high) and human health (electromagnetic pollution)
Instead of promoting compact fluorescent light bulbs, governments should be insisting that manufacturers produce light bulbs that do not produce radio frequency or UV radiation and that are safe for the environment and for human health
Dr. Havas' paper also includes a list of symptoms caused by radio wave sickness.
Do CFLs really last longer?
While the light bulbs are supposed to be cost-saving, what many people do not realize is that the rating is based on continually being on. Turning compact fluorescent bulbs on and off actually reduces their lifespan down to that of a regular bulb.
Leaving the light on to increase the lifespan of the light can be inconvenient in places like bathrooms and closets.
Much of the advertising copy we have been sold on CFLs contains exaggerated and misleading claims. The fine print is that the average lifetime is not 10,000 hours, but “up to” 10,000 hours.
In many applications, the lifetime of a CFL and estimated energy savings are significantly lower than we have been led to believe. For a compact fluorescent bulb to achieve the claimed efficiency, it has to be burned continuously for long periods.
If a CFL is left on for only 5-minute periods, it will burn out just as fast as an incandescent bulb. To avoid short cycling, the U.S. Energy Star program advises consumers to leave compact fluorescents on for at least 15 minutes. 1
CFLs produce ultraviolet light and heat from an electric current that flows between electrodes located at each of a tube that contains gas. They are a little more complicated than incandescent bulbs in that the brightness is measured in lumens.
CFLs differ from incandescents which are measured by watts. A typical 40-watt bulb would be the equivalent to 450 lumens in a CFL. This number is typically printed on the base of the bulb or the bulb itself. 1a
Trash or Recycle?
One of the obstacles with energy-saving light bulbs is that many consumers do not know how to dispose of them properly.
Fluorescent bulbs should always be stored in the original packaging to avoid accidental breakage and subsequent contamination.
Compact fluorescent lamps should never be included with your regular household trash. CFLs contain small amounts of mercury and should be collected separately for disposal. When they end up in a landfill or incinerator mercury vapor is released into the environment. Each CFL bulb contains about 4 milligrams of mercury. 2
Recycling CFLs means that the glass and metal can be reused as practically the entire bulb is recyclable. Some states, such as Florida, may require the recycling of CFLs and other bulbs containing mercury. These states may also provide CFL disposal options for users. 2a
In some states, it is illegal to crush CFLs. (CFLs are considered hazardous waste but so are mothballs and drain cleaner.) Broken CFL bulbs do pose a heavy metal contamination risk.
Under federal regulations, the vast majority of mercury-containing lamps are considered a hazardous waste. If you do not test your mercury-containing lamps and prove them non-hazardous, you must assume they are hazardous waste and handle them accordingly.2b
If you use CFLs please recycle them
Use this link to find out where to dispose of CFLs in your area.
For example, there are at least 50 locations in the area where I live that collect CFLs for proper disposal. Search Earth911 to find a place for CFL collection close to where you live.
What to do if a CFL breaks
- If a CFL gets broken in your home, send everyone (including fur babies) out of the room.
- Turn off the HVAC system so that air containing mercury vapor is not circulating throughout the house.
- Allow the room to air out for 5-10 minutes to clear toxic chemicals.
- Clean up by scooping up broken glass using stiff paper or cardboard. Do not use a vacuum as the mercury dust could be spread into the air.
- Use a piece of sticky tape (such as wide duct tape) to remove glass fragments and powder from the area, placing the discarded tape in a plastic bag for removal.
- Check with your local waste management facilities about disposing of your clean-up materials.
- Do not store these materials indoors. 3
Go to this link for detailed instructions on cleaning up a CFL. There is a printable version of the cleaning instructions; if you are going to use CFLs it might be a good idea to keep it handy. You never know when a broken bulb is going to happen.
Again, mercury is released when you a CFL bulb breaks, so make sure you are prepared to safely clean it up.
CFLs that smoke or smolder
Some people have reported smoldering or smoke coming from CFLs although these bulbs are required to meet design standards that are self-extinguishing. CFLs with he energy star rating are required to offer at a minimum, a 2-year warranty for home use.
Most manufacturers will require the defective product to be shipped back before they will provide a replacement for smoking bulbs.
Light-emitting diodes are small light sources that use the movement of electrons through a semiconductor material to produce light. LEDs are frequently used to draw attention to things such as power button lights or exit signs.
LED is 90% more efficient than incandescent bulbs according to the energystar.gov website. LEDs contain a microchip which an electrical current passes through to illuminate small light sources.
LEDs are directional lighting, unlike CFL, which emits light and heat in every direction. LEDs can use energy and light more efficiently, although they are more complicated to produce.
LED may earn the energy star rating if they meet specific requirements such as light output, color quality, and durability.
What are the risks with LED lighting
LED use after the sun goes down reduces the capacity of your eyes to restore and regenerate. These LED lights emit primarily blue wavelengths and lack the healing and regenerative near-infrared frequency red wavelength, which is necessary for this restoration and regeneration.
LED lights could be preventing you from getting the quality sleep you need for good health. Blue light in the evening reduces melatonin production in the pineal gland AND retina regeneration. 4
Energy-saving light bulbs often have a flickering that can cause migraines and headaches.
Light flicker refers to quick, repeated changes in light intensity – light that appears to flutter and be unsteady. It is caused when the voltage supplied to a light source changes or when the power line voltage itself fluctuates. 4a
You can get a flicker detector or you can try to use the slow-motion mode on your iphone camera although it isn't entirely accurate.
If you are using LED it's essential to balance it with natural light from windows if at all possible. Open the curtains or blinds to let the light shine in!
According to Gunnar.com
There are concerns about the safety of the new generation of so-called ‘environmentally friendly’ lighting. She said that prolonged, continuous exposure to this light may be enough to damage a person’s retina. The retina is composed of light-sensitive tissue that is responsible for detecting light and in turn allowing us to see.
This problem is going to get worse, because humans are living longer and children are using electronic devices from a young age, particularly for schoolwork
Warm LEDs appear to have red but actually, are just masking the blue light with more significant amounts of yellow and orange.
The temperature of light in degrees – physical color correlated color temperature -measuring how the light source appears visually – it may look the same as natural light but lacks the quality.
The bottom line is that LED light produced from an LED bulb is not the same as the natural light that comes from the sun or from incandescent light bulbs. Unlike LED light, natural light emits all kinds of wavelengths in a continuous manner.
Disposing of LEDs
Discard LEDs in regular household waste. While fluorescent tubes need to be recycled; they contain small amounts of mercury, so they must be separated from trash.
Overall, my recommendation is that for those who are concerned about the possibility of health risks, the best choice would be a crystal clear incandescent light or even beeswax candles or salt lamps.
Another plausible option would be to use blue light-blocking glasses after sunset.
According to EMF Academy,
The safest type of light bulbs for overall health are simple incandescent bulbs. Although they are less efficient than their counterparts the LED and CFL light bulbs, they emit far less blue light and produce less dirty electricity. 5
Nothing beats sunlight, so if possible harness this free resource for your home. Many houses have skylights that allow light to be reflected inside of a tube that illuminate the room.
My daughter has these skylights in her home in Florida, and they are just as good as turning on a light bulb.
Stay healthy and remember, it's not just about the lettuce!
Many of you have reached out asking if wi-fi-enabled light fixtures are harmful. While I see the convenience in having dimmers and Bluetooth-enabled lights, I choose not to use these as the added EMFs and signals contribute to the “pollution” in my house. They do not contribute enough convenience, in my opinion, to make them worth the risk. Dimmable lights, however, are convenient and safe to add and contribute to energy efficiency, so do consider adding dimmable adjusters.
You've also asked which light bulbs I use at home. We use incandescent bulbs, many of the “vintage” styles work well in our home, but we also have a lot of natural light. If an incandescent light bulb breaks, it's okay to wipe up the broken glass with a wet paper towel.
There are so many types of light bulbs on the market! It can be very confusing. Warm white, soft white, white light all refer to kelvin ratings and temperature descriptions. Daylight bulbs appear brightest. UV light is best for growing plants, whereas incandescent and halogen light aren't considered the best for plants. Most “grow lights” you'll find on Amazon are LED light bulbs.
Hope that answers some of the questions you've had since this article was published! Feel free to reach out if I missed yours.
1 -DEMING: Fluorescent bulb follies – Washington Times. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/aug/21/fluorescent-bulb-follies/
1a – https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0164-shopping-light-bulbs
2 – Recycling and Disposal of CFLs | Compact Fluorescent Light …. https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/cfl/recycling-and-disposal-cfls_.html
2a – https://www.aircycle.com/resources/state-regulations/fl.aspx
2b – https://archive.epa.gov/epawaste/hazard/web/html/faqs-5.html
3 – CFLLight Bulb – National Fire Protection Association. https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/Public-Education/Resources/Safety-tip-sheets/lightbulbsafetytips.ashx?la=en
4 – How LED Lighting May Compromise Your Health – Mercola.com. https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/10/23/near-infrared-led-lighting.aspx
5 – Safest Light Bulbs – The Definitive Guide – EMF Academy. https://emfacademy.com/safest-light-bulbs/