A Primer on Long Light Bulbs — Are They Eco-Friendly?

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Long light bulbs can be found almost everywhere in our lives. 

They’re used in schools, offices, supermarkets, and any place that requires bright indoor lighting. They can last for at least 20,000 hours, which makes them ideal for high ceiling light fixtures as they don’t need to be changed regularly. 

Plus, they’re highly energy-efficient, consuming just 25 percent of the energy used by incandescent light bulbs to provide the same amount of illumination. 

Key takeaways

  1. Long light bulbs can be used up to 36,000 hours, making them ideal for indoor locations where lighting is consistently required.
  2. They use four times less electricity than older incandescent light bulbs.
  3. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are the most environmentally-friendly long light bulbs on the market. They can last up to 15,000 hours and save homeowners up to $200 a year on electricity bills.

What are long light bulbs?

Long light bulbs are usually tubular in shape and white in color. Known more commonly as fluorescent tube lights, these lights are made from glass tubes filled with argon and mercury gases.  

When an electric current is driven through the chamber with the gases, an invisible UV light is produced that stimulates the white phosphor powder coating on the inside of the tube. This is what gives off the white “fluorescent” light of long light bulbs. 

Fluorescent light tubes were patented in 1927 by a trio of German scientists: Edmund Germer, Friedrich Meyer, and Hans Spanner. They developed the design after looking for ways to create a light bulb that could produce more light and less heat than conventional incandescent light bulbs. 

One fluorescent tube light typically produces between 1600-4000 lumens of light, which is a lot for an indoor setting. Many people opt to use fluorescent light tubes in large indoor spaces with high ceilings. 

An advantage of long light bulbs over other types of bulbs is their long lifespan. They can run up to 36,000 hours and require very little maintenance. They also don’t need to be turned off regularly, making them popular in places where they can be left on for long periods. 

Also, long light bulbs use four times less electricity than older incandescent light bulbs. As a result, they’re considered by many environmental experts to be good for the environment as less coal needs to be burned to power fluorescent light tubes. 

Where are long light bulbs typically used? 

Long light bulbs are typically used in large indoor commercial or industrial areas where lights need to be turned on for long durations. 

These include basements, warehouses, hospitals, grocery stores, offices, and schools. Because the light that fluorescent tube lights produce is often bluish and harsh, they work well in places that require brightness. They don’t work well in settings that need mood or atmospheric lighting. 

Long light bulbs also perform better in cool, dry environments. Hot or humid places like bathrooms may wear down the metal components of these light bulbs faster.

Moreover, long light bulbs may only need to be changed every few years even when they’re turned on for more than eight hours a day. This makes them ideal for hard-to-reach areas such as high ceilings.

Despite these aesthetic and cost-effective benefits, long light bulbs have been known to cause vision problems and headaches. The “flicker” emitted by fluorescent light bulbs may trigger migraines or seizures in sensitive individuals. They may therefore not be suitable for residential environments. 

Common types of long light bulbs

There are three common types of long light bulbs: compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), circline lamps, and fluorescent tube lights. All are made using the same gaseous reaction technology and share similar cost-effective qualities. 

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)

Compact fluorescent lamps or CFLs are the smallest versions of long light bulbs. They look like two or three tubes of fluorescent tube lights coiled around each other. Unlike their larger tubular counterparts, CFLs have screw bases that can be fitted into most household fixtures and desk lamps. They also use less energy.

CFLs were invented in the late 1970s in response to energy shortages and rising electricity costs in the United States. They’re a great replacement for incandescent light bulbs that last just up to 1,000 hours and consume about five times more energy

Circline lamps

Believed to have been invented in the late 1940s, the circline fluorescent lamp is a staple of garages and under-cabinet fixtures. Commonly used for task lighting, these lamps produce a low-temperature but highly bright output of between 500 to 3,000 lumens

The main drawback of circline lamps is their shape. As different light fixtures have their preset diameter, lamp type, and pin type, finding the right-sized circline lamp could be a challenge for some consumers. 

Fluorescent tube lights

Fluorescent tube lights are the largest and most common of all long light bulbs. They come in diameters ranging from 5/8s (T5) to 12/8s (T12) of an inch. They are also manufactured to different lengths, from 2 feet to 8 feet. 

Fluorescent tube lights produce a diffused light that comes in both warm and cool tones

What’s the most environmentally-friendly type of long light bulb?

CFLs are considered to be the most environmentally-friendly type of long light bulb according to energy industry experts. 

They can last up to 15,000 hours and use 75 percent less electricity than incandescent light bulbs. Though they cost slightly more than incandescents, their payoff can be noticed in just a year. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, homeowners can save up to $200 a year in utilities if they changed all of the incandescent light bulbs in their homes to CFLs. 

Because CFLs use an average of about 15 watts, they don’t consume much electricity. This has wide-ranging effects on the environment, especially as a lower electricity requirement means that less coal needs to be burned to power homes that use CFL bulbs. 

Carbon dioxide and mercury emissions may be reduced as a result. It’s estimated that changing just one incandescent light bulb in every U.S. home to a CFL bulb could be equivalent to removing one million cars from the road

Having less carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is crucial to slow down the impacts of climate change. As the world looks set to get warmer by up to 5.4 degrees Celsius at the end of the century, decreasing our dependence on coal-fired electricity can make a significant difference to our planet’s future.

A reduced need for coal-fired electricity could also prevent millions of tons of coal ash from contaminating our waterways and local water supplies. 

How to dispose of long light bulbs in a safe, green way

Long light bulbs need to be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way as they contain mercury and other poisonous gases. These chemicals can harm humans and the environment if used long light bulbs are not handled carefully.

Many environmental experts consider recycling to be the most environmentally-friendly way of throwing out long light bulbs. Large retail stores that sell hardware supplies like IKEA or Home Depot are likely to have recycling stations where you can drop your used lamps off. 

The retailers send your used fluorescent tube lights to a recycling facility where the lamps are disassembled into separate parts. The mercury may be added to new lamps while the glass may be crushed and used as sandblasting material.

Long light bulbs can also be recycled by mailing them back to the manufacturer or an organization that handles hazardous waste. They usually provide pre-labeled recycling kits which you can use to package your used bulbs. These kits can be dropped off at the post office or picked up by a postal carrier.

Recycling prevents long light bulbs from going to landfills, where they can break and leak mercury into the environment. Mercury can accumulate in soil and bodies of water, where it may get absorbed by fish. Unknowingly eating fish laced with mercury can lead to serious mercury poisoning.

Sometimes, long light bulbs may accidentally break before you can prepare them for recycling. If this happens in your home or office, the best thing to do is to open the windows for 15 minutes and have everyone go outside. This will allow the mercury and argon vapor to dissipate without harming anyone. 

After the room has been aired, it’s best to scoop up the broken glass, metal filaments, and phosphor powder into a heavy-duty garbage bag. Vacuum up any remaining shards or powder. Hazardous waste management facilities and some recycling facilities will usually accept broken fluorescent lamps. 

Other ways to reduce your environmental impact

Reducing your environmental impact doesn’t have to be difficult. With an eco-friendly online platform like Aspiration, you can get started using just the money in your bank account.

Aspiration makes sure that none of our customer’s money gets invested in fossil fuel companies. Through our Plant Your Change program, customers can automatically buy carbon offset trees using their Aspiration Spend & Save account, which rounds up every transaction they make to the nearest dollar and uses the spare change to buy the trees.

Customers can also apply the same setting to every gallon of gas they purchase using an Aspiration debit card. Our Planet Protection™ program automatically neutralizes the climate impact of every mile you drive. 

Try Aspiration today to help your money work for the planet.

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