This article was originally published in Teton Valley News on December 6th, 2012. It is reposted with permission.
‘Tis the season for snuggling by the fireplace, spending time with family, and experiencing the magic of the holidays. It’s also the season for surging utility bills as we attempt to heat, illuminate, and decorate our homes. Is it possible to preserve the magic of holiday lights while reducing both environmental and financial costs? If we replace old incandescent bulbs with energy efficient ones, the answer is “yes”.
LED lights are the most energy efficient choice for holiday lights, using 90% less energy than traditional lights. Because they do not produce heat, they are also much safer to put in and around your home. If you are tempted to continue using your old lights because you already own them, consider that decorative LED lights save the average user almost $100 over a ten-year period, including the cost of the bulbs. Due to decreased use of fossil fuels for lighting with LED lights, creating additional waste by replacing old lights is actually better for the environment.
With a little effort, you can recycle your old holiday lights. Christmas Light Source accepts and recycles old lights shipped to them and donates the proceeds to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. In return for your old lights, they will email you a coupon for 10% off a purchase of new LED lights. Holiday LEDs also accepts shipments of old lights for recycling in exchange for 25% off a new purchase.
For the rest of your home, compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) use 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb and last six times longer. Each CFL saves an estimated $47 in energy bills over its life. When your CFLs wear out, Fall River Electric Cooperative in Driggs accepts and recycles them. Due to the mercury present in CFLs, it is important to recycle them rather than disposing of them at the transfer station where they could break and harm workers.
Some people are concerned about the mercury in CFLs. Each CFL contains 4-5 milligrams of mercury. By volume, this is about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. In comparison, a mercury thermometer contains about 500 milligrams. As with thermometers, the mercury in CFLs presents no risk so long as it is intact. Ironically, using CFLs actually reduces the amount of mercury in our air, where it is harmful to humans. Coal-burning power plants emit four times as much mercury into the atmosphere to power an incandescent lightbulb than to power a compact fluorescent one. While the mercury in CFLs should not prevent you from choosing these efficient bulbs, it is important to take precautions to avoid breaking when using and disposing of them. Consider using other kinds of bulbs for lamps that could easily get knocked over by children or pets, and put your bulbs in two sealed plastic bags for safety when you drop them off at Fall River Electric Cooperative for recycling. Switching to CFLs and LEDs will help keep the north pole cold and snowy for Santa, and will leave a little extra money for your holiday shopping as well.
Tanya Anderson is the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information, visit tetonrecycling.com. Sources: US EPA, grist.org, and fallriverelectric.com.
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