Government is continually reviewing its clean-up and disposal recommendations for compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) to ensure we present the most up-to-date information for consumers. We take our advice from the National Poisons Centre and the Ministry of Health on the clean-up guidelines for CFLs.
This information sheet provides guidance on the types of household lamps (or light bulbs) available and outlines good practice for their use and disposal to minimise their environmental impacts.
The world would be a very dark place without artificial light. The first lamp was invented around 70,000 BC and the first electric carbon arc lamp in 1801 [History of Lighting and Lamps, Mary Bellis, About: Inventors accessed on 8 February 2007.]. Since then, artificial lighting has made our work and social lives safer and more comfortable. However, as with all electrical products, lamps require energy to operate and, when spent, lamps need to be disposed of. Both have environmental impacts.
Incandescent lamps: The most common type of household light bulb. An electric current passes through a thin filament, heating it and causing it to emit light. Most widely used in domestic applications, and is the basis of most portable lighting, such as table lamps. Approximately 95 percent of the power consumed by an incandescent lamp is emitted as heat, rather than as visible light. It is about one quarter as efficient as a fluorescent lamp.
Halogen lamps: A modified form of incandescent lamp. They are more expensive to buy but last twice as long. They are often used for spotlighting in kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms. If you use halogen lamps it is possible to fit a lower wattage and more efficient bulb – an efficient 35 watt lamp can produce as much light as a standard 50 watt lamp.
Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs): Potentially the lighting type of the future. LEDs have an extremely long lifespan. It is expected that technological advances will reduce costs such that this lighting type can be introduced into homes in the near future.
Fluorescent lamps: A lamp filled with neon or argon gas, a little bit of mercury and coated with a fluorescent or phosphorescent powder. Powered by electricity, the activated gas combines with the powder to produce light visible to the human eye [ Fluorescent lamps, Wikipedia. accessed on 7th February 2007.]. Fluorescent lamps come in many shapes and sizes such as the popular fluorescent tube. Increasingly popular is the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), described in more detail below.
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or energy saving lamps: A type of lamp that fits into a regular light bulb socket. In comparison to incandescent light bulbs, energy saving lamps have a longer life and use less electricity.
They are currently the best choice for efficient household lighting due to their longer life and energy efficiency. They also cost less in the long run.
Due to the variety in quality of energy saving lamps on the market, it is important to choose the best quality lamp that you can afford.
Energy saving lamps contain a small amount of mercury which makes them operate much more efficiently than incandescent and halogen lamps. Mercury is toxic to human health and bioaccumulates [Bioaccumulate – the accumulation of a substance, such as a toxic chemical, in various tissues of a living organism.] in the environment but the amount inside an individual lamp is not large enough to pose a hazard to users.
Energy saving lamps need to be disposed of carefully so they do not break and let the mercury escape and pollute air and water.
Yet because of their energy efficiency, energy saving lamps have the greatest overall environmental life-cycle benefits, despite containing mercury.
A US report states that the amount of mercury released by using energy saving lamps is less than the mercury used by coal-fired power plants to generate the electricity used by less energy efficient incandescent lamps. Proper disposal of spent lamps can further reduce releases of mercury into the environment.
The public health risk from energy saving lamps only exists when the lamps (also known as compact fluorescent light bulbs or CFLs) break and release small amounts of mercury into the environment. The mercury cannot escape from an intact lamp. The amount of mercury in CFLs is less than in a mercury thermometer – you need to break over 100 CFLs to be exposed to the same amount in a mercury thermometer (5 mg vs 500 mg). The very small amount of mercury contained in a single CFL is most unlikely to pose any risk if the guidelines for a safe clean-up are followed.
The following steps outline how a safe clean-up can be done.
Clean up for hard surfaces
Clean up for carpets or rugs
Repeat as above
Future cleaning of carpets and rugs
Clean up for clothing and bedding
The Ministry for the Environment is continually reviewing its clean-up and disposal recommendations for CFLs to ensure we present the most up-to-date information for consumers and businesses. Guidance is reviewed by the Ministry of Health.
The Smarter Homes project, run by the Ministry for the Environment, provides credible and accessible information to homeowners and the residential building industry to enable sustainable building and renovation.
Smarter Homes aims to stimulate consumer demand for building and renovating homes and offices in a sustainable way by demonstrating the benefits. Smarter Homes also enables designers and trades people to develop the skills and knowledge to deliver sustainable housing to consumers.
Some of the larger authorities, such as the Auckland region and Hawke's Bay, have a HazMobile service, to collect hazardous household wastes such as batteries, chemicals and fluorescent lamps. Please check with your local council to find out if they have a hazardous waste collection service and which waste they can accept.
To find a contact number for your local council access the following website www.localgovt.co.nz
Interwaste (formerly known as Medi-Chem Waste Services) recycle all types of fluorescent lamps and high intensity discharge lights. Phone 0800 102 131
Tredi NZ Ltd handles pre-1980 fluorescent ballasts (see PCBs section below). A ‘sister’ company of Interwaste. Phone: (09) 361 6188
RightLight has been developed to help people make more informed decisions on the best lighting for their home or workplace. For practical, independent, up-to-date information:
Zero Waste is a charitable trust which supports the activities of community organisations, councils, businesses, schools and individuals involved in waste minimisation and recycling.
The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) promotes a sustainable energy future by encouraging New Zealanders to change the way they think about and use energy. EECA works to raise community awareness of energy efficiency issues and provides businesses and individuals with the tools to make changes. . EECA manage an online information website called ‘Energy wise’ to help households make changes in the home to save money and save energy.
‘Switch and Save’ – handy questions and answers from the Canadian Natural Resources website. Please note that some of the responses relate to Canada only.
The Electricity Commission is a Crown entity set up under the Electricity Act to oversee New Zealand’s electricity industry and markets. The Commission promotes and facilitates the efficient use of electricity.
New Zealand has signed up to the Stockholm Convention. This convention commits countries to stop manufacturing and using persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and to minimise the release of these chemicals into the environment. Over 150 countries have signed up. POPs are toxic chemicals that persist in the environment. Their toxic impacts become stronger as they move through the food chain and increase in quantity in the fatty tissues of birds, mammals and humans.
Twelve chemicals are presently listed as POPs under the Stockholm Convention. The chemicals are a group of pesticides (aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene), industrial chemicals (PCBs), and dioxins and furans that are unintentional by-products of combustion or of the manufacture of some chlorine-containing chemicals.
PCBs were used in New Zealand’s electricity industry and most stocks have already been collected and disposed of. Arrangements will be made to safely dispose of remaining stocks that are collected, including the small PCB ballasts associated with fluorescent tubes made before 1980.
The Lighting Council New Zealand is working with the Ministry for the Environment to publicise appropriate methods of handling PCBs and their disposal.
For more information on the Stockholm Convention.
Last updated August 2011
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