Use and disposal of compact fluorescent lights by Canadian households

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Gordon Dewis, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division

Canadian households used 520,250 terajoules (TJ) of electricity in 2007, which works out to 40 gigajoules (GJ) per household. 25  Of this, 324,993 TJ of electricity (62%) was consumed by households in census metropolitan areas (CMAs). 26 , 27  Using more energy-efficient lights is one way households can reduce the amount of electricity they consume and their energy costs. 28  Reductions in energy consumption can, depending on how the electricity was generated, also lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which play a role in global warming.

What you should know about this study

This study is based on data from the 2009 Households and the Environment Survey (HES), which was conducted as part of the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators initiative. Respondents were asked to indicate whether they had any compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), fluorescent tubes, halogen lights or light-emitting diode (LED) lights. As well, they were asked if they had had any dead or unwanted CFLs to dispose of in the past year and how they disposed of them if they did.

Not all CMAs are represented in the analysis of all variables in this study as some results were suppressed for data quality reasons. The criteria for inclusion of a given CMA were that the result had to have a coefficient of variation (CV) no higher than 33.3 and at least 20 records had to have contributed to the result. In cases where fewer than 20 records contributed to a result, the value was deemed "too unreliable to be published," regardless of the CV and indicated as F in the data table. Values that had a CV between 16.5 and 33.3 (and at least 20 records contributing) are to be used with caution, which is indicated with an E in the data table.

About energy-saving lights

Conventional incandescent light bulbs are among the least energy-efficient light bulbs in use today. 29  However, there are a variety of alternative types of lights that can be used that require less energy to produce the same amount of light compared to an incandescent bulb. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), fluorescent tube lights, halogen lights and light-emitting diode (LED) lights are common types of energy-efficient lights.

To put things in perspective, a 100 watt (W) incandescent light will consume 0.36 GJ 30  of energy for every thousand hours it runs. A 30 W CFL generates a similar amount of light to a 100 W incandescent light, however it will only consume 0.108 GJ of energy in one thousand hours of operation. Similarly, a 13 W LED light emits a similar amount of light to a 100 W incandescent light while consuming just 0.047 GJ of energy over the course of one thousand hours.

Use of energy-saving lights

In 2009, almost 9 out of 10 households in Canadian census metropolitan areas (CMAs) (88%) had at least one type of energy-saving light (Table 6). The majority of CMA households (74%) had compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Households in Barrie were most likely (91%) to report having had at least one CFL. Kelowna households were least likely to have CFLs, with less than 7 out of 10 (65%) reporting having one. In the province of Quebec, where the cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) tends to be the lowest in Canada, 31  every CMA, with the exception of Sherbrooke (80%), reported uptake rates for CFLs lower than the national rate of 74%.

Fluorescent tubes were the second most common type of energy-saving light found in Canadian homes in 2009, with 47% of households reporting having had one. Households in Saint John reported the highest use in the country (62% having at least one fluorescent tube), while those in St. John's had the lowest use, with just under a quarter of households (24%) reporting having one.

Halogen lights are a type of incandescent light bulb that contain a halogen gas and consume about 40% less electricity than that of a traditional incandescent light bulb for a given amount of light. 32  Halogen lights were used by 37% of households in large municipalities. LED lights, the most energy-efficient of all, were used by 7% of all households in CMAs.

Disposal of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs)

Unlike incandescent lights, which can be disposed of safely in the regular garbage, CFLs contain mercury, which can have significant impacts on both human health and the environment if not disposed of properly. 33  Consequently, these lights are generally not accepted in the regular garbage stream and need to be disposed of using a hazardous waste program. 'Take back' programs exist in some areas to help consumers dispose of CFLs in a proper manner. While some programs are run on a provincial basis, 34  others are operated by retailers. 35  Households' access to take back programs can therefore vary significantly, even within the same CMA.

In 2009, 22% of households in CMAs reported having dead or unwanted CFLs for disposal. Households in the Ontario part of the Ottawa-Gatineau CMA and in Kingston, Thunder Bay and Sherbrooke were the most likely to have reported having dead or unwanted CFLs for disposal (all 28%) (Table 6). Households in Brantford, Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Abbotsford were the least likely to have had a dead or unwanted CFL to dispose of (all 15%).

Of the households that reported having dead or unwanted CFLs to dispose of, just under one-quarter (24%) reported they took them to a depot or drop-off centre, however most households (55%) reported that they put them in the regular garbage, while 13% indicated they still had them. At the CMA level, households in Québec City were most likely to have disposed of them in the garbage (81%).

Most CMAs fell into one of two categories: those that had relatively high rates of uptake of CFLs and relatively low rates of disposal of CFLs in the garbage (the top right quadrant of Figure 1); or those that had relatively low rates of uptake of CFLs and relatively high rates of disposal of CFLs in the garbage (the bottom left quadrant of Figure 1). With the exception of Thunder Bay, all of the CMAs in the former group display behaviour that is close to the norm for all CMAs, while half of those in the latter group display less typical behaviour (that is, they fall outside of 1 standard distance of the mean centre of the CMAs in the figure).

Figure 1: Uptake of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) versus disposal of CFLs in garbage

There were a few CMAs that had both relatively high rates of uptake of CFLs combined with a relatively high proportion of households that threw their dead or unwanted CFLs in the garbage. For example, more than 8 out of 10 households in Regina and Barrie used CFLs, but they also had among the highest rates for disposal of CFLs in the garbage. Conversely, Oshawa, Hamilton and Thunder Bay had low rates for disposal of CFLs combined with relatively high rates of use.