I have noticed a meme circulating the internet over the past 2 weeks – fear of landfill contamination by an increase in the use of CFL bulbs. While there is trace amounts of mercury in CFL bulbs, and I do believe that there needs to be more public education from places that sell the bulbs to avoid them ending up in the garbage – I would like to note that the possible reduction in mercury emissions from coal fired power plants outweighs the amount used to produce the bulb, over the bulbs lifetime.
This fact sheet (warning PDF also found at wikipedia) on the subject notes that there is approximately 4.0mg of mercury in a CFL bulb, and the emissions from a coal fired plant to produce the energy to run the bulb over it’s lifetime is an additional 2.4mg of mercury. Contrast that with 10.0mg of emissions for a conventional incandescent bulbs over the same 5 year lifespan of the CFL bulb. The incandescent is still producing more gaseous mercury contamination than the CFL. Also, the mercury contained in the CFL bulb remains in a form that can be recycled.