Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Mercury bombs

Now the traditional (and cheap) incandescent light bulb has been forcibly phased out in the name of saving the planet, we seem to be stuck with millions of Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFL) or mercury bombs as they have been called. These things contain mercury, a Red List substance, so when they break or fail they have to be disposed of in the approved manner.

Not only that, but CFL lighting was always due to be phased out anyway because of the mercury. It’s probably only a matter of time because the Zero Mercury Working Group has this to say about the use of mercury.

The Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) is an international coalition of 94 public interest environmental and health non-governmental organizations from 52 countries from around the world formed in 2005 by the European Environmental Bureau and the Mercury Policy Project. ZMWG strives for zero supply, demand, and emissions of mercury from all anthropogenic sources, with the goal of reducing mercury in the global environment to a minimum. Our mission is to advocate and support the adoption and implementation of a legally binding instrument which contains mandatory obligations to eliminate where feasible, and otherwise minimize, the global supply and trade of mercury, the global demand for mercury, anthropogenic releases of mercury to the environment, and human and wildlife exposure to mercury.

A complete global ban is their aim - hence the name Zero Mercury Working Group. All this is going on under the umbrella of UNEP, the same UN body that pushes climate propaganda and thereby the move to CFL lighting. A binding international agreement on mercury may well be signed within weeks and ZMWG is after a strong agreement :-

The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee to prepare a global legally binding instrument on Mercury (INC4) will be held in Punta del Este, Uruguay, from 27 June to 2 July 2012.

There is in principle nothing wrong with phasing out the release of mercury into the environment. There are problems in identifying anthropogenic mercury, because it occurs naturally, but in principle we should not be adding it to the environment if at all possible.

The problem is, we knew all this when CFL lighting was forced on us, so why not wait for something better than CFL, or at least make them optional with a large health warning on each pack? Why fill millions of homes with millions of mercury-containing CFLs, knowing they will have to be phased out and knowing the official view is, the sooner the better?

The only option to CFL, unless we go back to traditional (and did I say cheap) incandescent light bulbs seems to be LED lighting, which is expensive, still being developed and depends on rare earths from China. This was also foreseeable of course because both the pushing of CFL and the phasing out of the mercury essential for CFL were going on at the same time under the same umbrella organisation - UNEP.

Not that anyone is likely to be surprised - it’s how so many green jobs are created. 


Anonymous said...

This looks like a can of worms - the lamp base contains transistors, inductors, ferrites, electrolytic and ceramic capacitors and resistors all of which take energy etc to make and assemble in addition to the discharge tube. But the energy is mainly Chinese energy and so does not count. Then there is recycling - in practice most CFLs go in the non-recycled rubbish and if we looked into local authority recycling in any detail I doubt the picture is an edifying one. The mercury hazard is IMHO trivial but take a peek through a spectroscope at the strong red, orange, green, blue and violet lines (with little in between) and be amazed that most people think the light is more or less white.

As for LED lamps they too will require similar technology to fit into normal lighting sockets and a stroll round a gallium semiconductor factory will reveal a substantial energy bill (in addition to the air-miles needed to find one!). All in all I reckon a full-spectrum end-to-end energy audit will reveal no huge difference between tungsten and CFL or LED lights, merely that the energy expenditure gets moved from West to East.

A K Haart said...

Roger - it still surprised me that they make them so cheaply - China again I suppose. And as you say, Chinese energy so it doesn't seem to count in green energy calculations even if it comes from brown coal.

Sam Vega said...

Up until now, I had assumed that these bloody bulbs were better for the planet in some unspecific greeny sort of way. I love the advice (via your link) on what to do if you break one. It says "normal good housekeeping is required", but then goes on to talk about vacating and ventilating the room, donning rubber gloves, and generally acting as if an early Doomwatch episode was being filmed in your front room. In our house, normal housekeeping would mean yelling at whoever broke it, and then me trying to pick up the shards before the cat treats them as playthings or my wife treads on them.

I'm going back to candles. Or maybe just turning in when it gets dark.

Sam Vega said...

And another thing. Last year, Sainsbury's were giving the bastard things away. Just turn up, and you could if you wanted have filled your car boot for all they cared.

A K Haart said...

Sam - I'd forgotten Doomwatch. Wasn't it crap? Thanks for the idea - must post on it one day if I can dig up a clip. I bought some CFLs for 29p each from Sainsbury's a while back which is near enough free.

As Roger says though, the mercury isn't that dangerous, but disposal is supposed to be very tightly regulated.