Just when compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) seemed to be gaining ground with American consumers, the fact that they contain mercury—a neurotoxin linked to brain, liver and kidney damage—has led manufacturers and home channel retailers to reassess the category.
On May 10, Wal-Mart announced that it would “dramatically lower” the amount of mercury in CFLs sold in Wal-Mart stores and Sam’s Clubs. The company—which had earlier announced it is hoping to sell 100 million CFLs in 2007—is working with GE, Royal Philips, Osram Sylvania and Lights of America to reduce the mercury level in CFLs by an average of 360 pounds of mercury per 100 million units, or by about 33 percent.
“Wal-Mart is committed to selling only Energy Star-qualified CFLs that are safe for our customers and great for the environment,” said Andy Ruben, Wal-Mart’s vp-strategy and sustainability. “By partnering with our manufacturers, we are achieving mercury reductions in CFLs before they reach our store shelves.”
CFLs, which use 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs, last up to 10 times longer and save about $30 in electricity costs over the bulb’s lifetime, have been heavily promoted by manufacturers, retailers and environmental groups.
Although not all retailers report CFL sales, industry estimates put 2006 unit sales of CFL bulbs between 91 million and 95 million. And, according to 18
At issue now is what happens to the mercury in CFLs once they have been disposed of. Some groups, including the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, have been pushing a plan to keep these bulbs out of landfills, which they say could eventually become contaminated if enough mercury-filled bulbs are dumped in any one area.
According to Wendy Reed, Energy Star campaign director for the EPA, her organization is also working with manufacturers, retailers and even the U.S. Postal Service to come up with ways that recycling can be used as an alternative to disposal. They