Bright lights, dim futures

Bramhall Square
By CAITLIN SHETTERLY  |  July 2, 2007

In a little over a month I will be standing under what I hope will be clear skies, the ocean stretching out in front of me and permeating the air with the salty fecund smell of a Maine bay as I say my vows and complete a year’s journey to marriage. Hopefully someone will actually be there to witness the event, as Cowboy and I have not yet sent out our formal invitations (he’s making them...for months he’s been making them) and nor have we finalized a guest list. Instead we’ve been concentrating on more earthly concerns like when did groceries get so expensive? And why is it that no one knows how to dispose of those new energy-efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs?

The other night when, according to my mother, we should have been making our invitations because this has become “embarrassing,” we sat down to watch An Inconvenient Truth. And although we knew we should be addressing envelopes and choosing tablecloth colors, we instead wanted to scare ourselves senseless about the future of the planet. We came away pumped full of concerns and ideas about how to do our part, one being to invest in those long-life light bulbs. The next day we went out to Home Depot and found the “Efficiency Maine” display and started to fill the cart with the packages, thinking we’d replace everything. But Cowboy stopped me in my shopping tracks.

“Ah, babe, these are made with mercury.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, right here it says: contains mercury.”

“Well, maybe all light bulbs have mercury?”

“No, these don’t,” he told me after inspecting a regular light bulb package.

And so we called over a salesperson in an orange apron.

“That is correct. Mercury is inside these. Can’t break them and if you do you have to vacate the area and contact poison control.”

Then Cowboy asked, “Let’s say you don’t break them; what do you do to get rid of them?”

“I don’t actually know.”

“Does anyone here know?”

“No, we have been advised to suggest you contact your local dump.”

To which Cowboy said, “great, because in Portland you need to be a ‘homeowner’ to go to the dump for free.” So, we didn’t buy them. But we wondered, why in the world is there no warning, no info, no guidelines with the display? Here people are trying to save the environment presumably, and more likely trying to save their wallets, but are they also possibly contaminating themselves and the environment with mercury?

We’d heard about Wal-Mart’s line of compact fluorescents, so we went there. Again, no sign, no warnings, no information on how to dispose of the bulbs or what to do if one broke.

Later, after we’d just purchased the regular mercury-free light bulbs, I went online and found lots of places to buy compact fluorescents and lots of info about how much money and energy I’d save, but finally on the GE Web page about their “Energy Smart” bulbs, I found this: “Do not throw CFLs away in your household garbage if better disposal options exist.”

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Efficiency Maine, Portland Public Works Department
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 See all articles by: CAITLIN SHETTERLY