Columbians are big on using compact fluorescent bulbs

Tuesday, June 10, 2008 | 4:57 p.m. CDT; updated 5:15 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

COLUMBIA — With the trend to “go green” creeping into neighborhoods across the nation, Columbians are saving energy with just the flip of a switch. Last month, Columbia ranked fourth in the nation for compact fluorescent light bulb usage.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, compact fluorescent bulbs require less energy than incandescent bulbs yet emit the same amount of light. The CFLs have been cited as lasting up to 10 times longer than traditional bulbs.

When a bulb breaks

Because mercury has been found in compact fluorescent bulbs, extra precaution is needed when cleaning up if they break. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the following steps should be taken: 1. Air out the room. Open the windows and have everybody leave the room for at least 15 minutes. The air conditioner or heating system should be turned off. 2. Pick up the pieces. Using cardboard or a stiff piece of paper, shovel the fragments into a sealed plastic bag or a glass jar with a metal lid. 3. Duct tape should be used to pick up leftover fragments. 4. Using a damp paper towel, wipe the surface clean. Place the towel into the plastic bag or glass jar. 5. Wash your hands thoroughly. 6. Take the container to the Household Hazardous Waste Facility at 1313 Lakeview Ave.

The bulbs are also more efficient because they do not release any heat. Traditional incandescent bulbs use somewhere near 90 percent of their energy to heat a filament, which then shines to produce light while compact fluorescent bulbs simply energize a gas, according to Columbia Water and Light’s Web site. The gas then generates an invisible ultraviolet light, which illuminates the white coating inside the bulb.

According to, a Web site devoted to promoting the use of CFLs, more than 230,000 compact fluorescent light bulbs were sold in Columbia last year and more than 5 million throughout the state. The Web site estimates that Columbia has prevented more than 120 million pounds of carbon dioxide gases from being released into the atmosphere. In addition, residents have saved more than 28 million pounds of coal.

Columbia Water and Light offers instant rebates on CFL light bulbs to customers from October through December. Customers can fill out the coupon at select retailers and receive money back at the same time. This program is part of the “Change a Light, Change the World” program put on by Energy Star, a government program that offers energy-efficient products.

Six thousand discounted bulbs were given in 2005, 10,000 in 2006 and another 10,000 in 2007, said Connie Kacprowicz of Columbia Water and Light. As of late May, Columbia Water and Light has given 3,400 discounted bulbs to the Landlord Association, an organization geared toward providing landlords with the information and resources needed to succeed, including their rights as landlords and tips on how to make their facilities more energy efficient. .

Barbara Nickerson, owner of more than 50 apartments, said she and her husband use CFLs in their buildings because they are cost-effective.

“We have some in our own home, and we don’t have to change them very often,” Nickerson said.

With this rebate, CFLs normally priced around $3 per bulb, can be purchased for as little as 99 cents at select retailers.

“I think it’s a good way to give people a price break,” said Kacprowicz, who uses CFLs in her own home.

She said changing a few bulbs at a time is a great way to start.

“You’re going to see the most savings in fixtures you use the most, like the bathroom and kitchen,” she said.

In addition to offering rebates, Columbia Water and Light offers free energy audits to all customers. A specialist will offer “an unbiased review of habits, equipment and structure detailing so you can make informed decisions as to where your conservation efforts will reap the highest returns,” according to its Web site. Included in the visit is a consultation on past water and electric consumption, an evaluation on both the inside and outside of the home and a potential plan to lower energy usage.

As more consumers use CFLs and take advantage of citywide programs, they should be aware that the bulbs contain mercury.

“CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing — an average of 4 milligrams — about the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen,” according to

Because CFLs contain mercury, they cannot be tossed in the garbage like more traditional bulbs. Instead, they require more careful disposal.

The city’s Household Hazardous Waste Facility, located at 1313 Lakeview Ave., collects all varieties of fluorescent bulbs. The facility is open on the first and third Saturdays of each month, from April to November.

In the months when the facility is closed, disposal can be more complicated. It is suggested that users place burnt-out CFLs in a container that prevents them from breaking. If they do break, however, they require specific cleanup.

Despite the more demanding disposal of CFLs, Columbia remains a leader in their use.

“I was surprised and very pleased that Columbians have done so well in switching out to more energy-efficient light bulbs,” Kacprowicz said.

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