VIDEO: "Mercury Is A Natural Element" – Free Lightbulb Day At Chelsea Home Depot

Home Depot gave away a slew whole bunch of Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs this Sunday to celebrate Earth Day and we sent our videographer, Alex Goldberg, down to the Home Depot in Chelsea in Manhattan to see what shoppers had to say. Gotta love the guy who says that it’s ok the bulbs have mercury in them, because it’s, “a natural element.”

While we agree with Mr. skeptical glasses in the video that it’s a good PR move for Home Depot, and coincides with the launch of their “green label” line of “eco-friendly” products, you know, consumers need a push with this issue. It’s hard for the shoppers at large to understand that while they cost a little bit more than your basic bulb, they will use less energy and save you money in the long-run. They also look funny.

So if giving away free bulbs means Home Depot looks good and will sell more of these more expensive bulbs, which could encourage people to buy more and help reduce energy demand overall, well then isn’t that what you call a win-win situation? — BEN POPKEN

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  1. MonkeyMonk says:

    Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs are fantastic but I hae discovered one downside to using them. Don’t install them in recessed ceiling fixtures in areas where they are likely to be exposed to drafts — otherwise they tend to work erratically in the middle of the winter.

  2. SexCpotatoes says:

    @MonkeyMonk: Your post would be a lot more fun if you were asserting that the lightbulbs could “work erotically” in the winter. CFL bringing a little heat into your winter to cure your S.A.D.-ness.

    Every bulb in my house is a CFL, except the three short flourescents in the kitchen, and the seldom used bulbs in the basement. Even my porch light is a CFL, a special sealed one to keep the moisture out. Last summer, I had a $25 electric bill, and I have a computer and an electric hot water heater. CFL bulbs save you money.

  3. orlong says:

    All this “green” stuff is a scam. Everything on this earth came from the earth whether it be coke cans, cars, windows, telephones, laser printers, or mercury. This stuff didn’t just materialize out of thin air. Therefor EVERYTHING is green

  4. lonelymaytagguy says:

    @MonkeyMonk: If you’re having problems in cold weather, try another brand, or even another bulb. I’ve got 4 in outside lights and they always light up, even when it’s 10 F (though they’re pretty dim for a few minutes).

  5. bossco says:

    Hey it’s a FREE lightbulb. Take it. Be happy. Yes, its a marketing ploy, but everything in this country is a marketing ploy. If it makes you think a little about the enviorment on Earth Day, then all the better.

  6. Sockatume says:

    As dodgy as that comment may be (environmental safety goes far beyond the idiot buzzword “natural”), you do have a smaller “mercury footprint” with the energy saving bulbs. If you stick with conventional bulbs, you’re not buying any mercury, but you use more energy. In fact by burning coal to produce this extra energy, your power company release far more mercury into the atmosphere than your bulbs contain.

    I would like to suggest that orlong change his name to “orwrong”, for reasons which are intuitively obvious.

  7. Hi. I am the guy with the glasses. I knew it was Consumerist, that’s why I wanted to talk. But the thing that is misleading is that the interviewer approached me and tried to frame the conversation as if it was a BAD thing that Home Depot was doing because of the Hg. So he immediately puts the interviewee in the position of feeling bad for getting this light bulb. I’m not unhappy with my free light bulb; I went to Home Depot to get one because you guys told me to!

    But your article still doesn’t address the key issue. Don’t you have some sort of moral obligation or journalistic integrity that makes it your duty to educate people about the mercury and how and where we can dispose of it properly?

  8. PhilK says:

    @idledebonair: I would agree with this, a post about CFLs and proper disposal would be a good idea. Earth911′s a pretty good place to start for info.

    If everyone starts throwing out CFL bulbs I’m pretty sure the world won’t implode (considering how few of them should be getting thrown out), but there’s not really a reason not to properly dispose of them (especially if you’re environmentally conscious enough to be using them in the first place)

  9. Phil says:

    @idledebonair: If we’ve learned one thing from The Consumerist, it’s that no one has a moral obligation, integrity, or duty any more. Especially companies, employees of companies, CEO’s of companies, but web sites are included in this.

    A search result for “How To Dispose of Mercury” on Google.

  10. max andrews says:

    CFL’s have about the same amount of mercury in them as an incandescent bulb is responsible for, but since they last so much longer, they are many times better mercury wise. I don’t get the point of this video. Of COURSE it’s a marketing thing, OF COURSE it’s designed to make home depot money. The difference between this and any old give-away tactic is that this one at least helps stem energy consumption, so it’s really a win/win. By giving away 1 million bulbs, home depot has reduced energy consumption by about 50megawatts. Changing one bulb to a CFL saves enough energy to offset a cross-country plane flight in terms of carbon dioxide generation. The goal is that people will buy more CFLs the more they are hyped, but the very best way to make a big environmental impact is to use consumerism and sales to an advantage.

  11. Ben Popken says:

    One of the neat things about having a site with multiple people working on it is that they can have different opinions about the same story.

  12. niccernicus says:

    Note to Home Depot cashiers:

    1. Do not make fun of a customer who comes in only to ask for their free bulb.

    2. Why not offer them to every person who checks out, regardless of if they ask for them or not. I almost forgot about the free bulb, had it not been for #1 above.

  13. 3drage says:

    Since when did helping the environment AND making money become a bad thing? Home Depot is going to make money either way, you might as well applaud them for doing a small part during Earth Day to increase awareness. The fact that it helps both makes it a win-win situation. And “damning the man” is only going to make companies think twice about wanting to conserve and save what all of us have been squandering for decades. It doesn’t hurt to be thankful now and again, instead of being negative.

  14. bambino says:

    @orlong: Proof that even a caveman can get on the intarweb. If you think that being ‘green’ is a scam, then you’ve missed the point of the movement completely. I suggest you research the tenets, especially ‘green building’, before you make yourself look like more of an ass.

  15. Vinny says:

    @orlong: That has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot of dumb shit.

  16. Vinny says:

    @idledebonair: This is Consumerist.com, not Treehugger.com.

    While I do agree that environmental education is a good thing, the idea that you’ll find it here is a bit silly.

  17. FLConsumer says:

    Give me a break about the Mercury (Hg). Back when I was in school, which wasn’t all THAT long ago, we used to break apart old thermostats and play with the mercury in the back of the classroom on the science tables. Back then if we were caught, they’d just tell us to clean up our mess and to make sure we washed the tables and our hands extremely well. Now if kids do this in class, you see something on-par with a national emergency response, schools closed for days, students arrested, etc. Give me a break.

  18. ABBAbear says:

    I strolled into my local Home Depot Sunday morning, saundered up to the first employee I saw, and asked about the free bulbs. “Huh?” was the response. I showed her the weekly ad with the promotion largely focused on the front page. She phoned someone and then said “she said they haven’t come in yet.” In the meantime, while she was on the phone, I peeked around the corner at the bulb section and there were plenty on the shelves.
    I asked when she thought they might come in; she had no idea and turned around to talk to a couple of co-workers.

    Alas, my once-happy trip to HD turned into a gloomy day as I left empty-handed.

  19. MeOhMy says:

    Other things that are “natural”:
    Poo
    Sulfuric Acid
    Uranium
    Poo
    E. Coli
    Rattlesnake venom
    Did I mention poo?

  20. yzerman says:

    lol Mad Hatter syndrome.

    Anyhow my entire house uses these and I can’t really say if I see a lot of energy costs. However I got a 6 pack for $8 last year at home depot and figured what the hell, give it a shot and see what happens.

    I found out a few things.

    They don’t work well on dimmers and cold tempatures make them not as bright as frist until they warm about (about 30secs to a minute)

    Overall as long as it makes it so I don’t have to fuss with light bulbs burning out once a year I am happy.

  21. OfficeDespot says:

    CFLs really aren’t all that green. Yeah, the CFL unit itself uses alot less energy than it’s incandescent counterpart, but there’s more to it than that.

    Where is the CFL produced? If it’s in China, then they most definitely are NOT using green energy to produce the lightbulbs. If CFL’s take off, then the increased lightbulb production will require increased energy production.

    That increased energy production will more than likely come from coal-fired electric plants. Which generate more greenhouse gases. Additionally, these smog-inducing coal-fueled electric generators will not have scrubbers to remove toxic chemicals including mercury. Pollution controls are virtually nonexistent in developing countries.

    Think Globally, act loco. The reasoning used to push CFLs is flimsy at best.

  22. OfficeDespot says:

    A few other thoughts.

    Yeah, as a whole, reducing energy demand overall is a great idea.

    The more prevalent problem is reducing PEAK energy usage, during daylight hours, Which is normally when lightbulbs are not in use. Shedding peak load is what is needed the most for taking coal fired power plants out of commission.

    Reduction of nighttime Killawatt consumption have near-to-no effect on shaving peak demand. And with with non-peak usage reduced, utilities will have less revenue for earning a return on their invested capital.

    Utilities have to build and maintain their physical plants to meet the PEAKS. The money to pay for the equipment has to be charged on a 24 hour cycle. So in the end, utilities will end up raising rates on the non-peak usage to finance the equipment that gets used round-the-clock.

  23. ironchef says:

    for everyone freaking out about the tiny amount of mercury in a CF bulb, think of how much mercury is actually being released into the atmosphere by coal burning power plant powering up that energy hogging incandescent mercury free light bulb.

    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2005/06/what_about_merc.ph

    CF bulbs= lower mercury risk to environment.

  24. BeccaDaisy says:

    Yesterday some friends and I squeezed into my car to go to every Home Depot in out area. We managed 8 in the metro area, all within 15 miles.

    Most Home Depot employees didn’t know what we were talking about, but we found each table prett quickly. They collected signatures and zip codes. At every store we asked what that was for, and we got different answers everywhere!

    Some said it was for tax purposes for Home Depot, some said that it was to do a survey for which are codes use the lightbulbs, and some even told us that it was just to make sure each person got one.

    One store tried to give us only a couple, stating that it is one per household (although none of us live together). One store even gave us a lightbulb with no box! I told them that I didn’t think it was safe to give us something so breakable and dangerous without a box! He told me that there were lightbulbs in boxes that I could buy, but the free ones didn’t come with a box. You could even see him removing the bulbs from the boxes beneath the table.

    It was an interesting day, going to eight Home Depots. I am happy with my bulbs, and now I have enough to replace every lamp in the apartment.

  25. OfficeDespot says:

    @ironchef:

    At least 1/2 of mercury emissions from coal fired power plants are captured by scrubbers. Cleaner technologies are coming to market that can eliminate 2/3rds of the remainder. However, CFL’s can’t operate without mercury.

  26. BritBoy says:


    other things that are ‘natural elements’ include

    uranium
    lead
    arsenic
    polonium & thalium
    radon

    Natural elements are highly toxic. Avoid them !

  27. mattbrown says:

    thanks for the enlightenment. now move to vermont and eat tree bark.

  28. ironchef says:

    @OfficeDespot:

    CF bulbs …they are sealed inside glass for years and years and can be disposed of safely.

    As for coal emissions, they are released into the atmosphere immediately.

    And the Bush admin isn’t doing much on requirements for utiltiies to upgrade their scrubbing equipment. http://www.grist.org/news/muck/2004/12/03/little-coal/inde

  29. reggien48 says:

    Not a big fan of the new bulbs for a number of reasons:
    1. they have mercury=more mining
    2. they cost more (poorer people will pay more)
    3. most energy is used during the day, making light bulbs in use during the day redundant. All my lights are turned off until i get home, but the average user? I can see in offices and buildings being useful.
    4. ComputersServers use a lot more energy, why not green them up?
    5. only China makes the new bulbs, with increased demand they’ll ramp up production create new factories and more coal burning electrical facilities to meet demand, widening the carbon foot print of producing these bulbs, instead of shrinking yours. And we all know how enviormently friendly china is.
    6. if you break one, do you need a hazmat team to clean them up? kidding, but not really.
    I’m sure they are other reasons, these are a couple that i know of. Just my 2 cents

  30. Sudonum says:

    @OfficeDespot:
    What percentage of Coal Plants have these scrubbers installed? I recall reading somewhere that they were an expensive item and the current administration was exactly pushing hard for legislation and/or incentives.

    Regarding comments about making money and trying to be green at thae same time; the only way the industrialized world even has a shot at being green(er) is if someone can make a buck off of it.

  31. dbisping says:

    http://globalalerts.com/2007/02/25/good-outweighs-mercury-

    All you have to do is recycle the bulbs. It’s not a big deal.

    We have to start somewhere. This is a smart start. Little things help.

    Not everything is a conspiracy. It seems like people who are commenting on this are trying to conspire to be fearful and do nothing to solve the ACTUAL problem. That’s just strange.

    It’s a good thing that businesses make money. Your job probably depends on it.

  32. So if they are giving out 1,000,000 of these bulbs is that not putting 1,000,000 old bulbs in the dumpster overnight?

  33. rlee says:

    One free is good. Even better, Giant is selling them “10 for $10″ — which is to say, $1 each, possibly limited to a max of 10 — through Thursday. All they had when I went in Sunday was the 100W-equivalents, but I’ll be grabbing a few of the dimmables as well when I can.

  34. CyGuy says:

    @OfficeDespot:
    “If CFL’s take off, then the increased lightbulb production will require increased energy production.”

    since the bulbs last at least 5 times as long, it would take 5 times the energy to produce the CFL for this to be an issue. And obviously, on a net basis lightbulb production interms of total units would be reduced (note: as would packaging and shipping of lightbulbs, and use of your car to make trips to the store to buy replacement bulbs)

    One point though – it seems many CFLs are sold in new packaging materials, whereas incandescants are usually sold in recycled paper packaging – something for the CFL manufacturers to think about.

    @reggien48: “1. they have mercury=more mining”
    There is so much mercury already in consumer products that are being removed from the market place that I doubt any needed mercury will need to mined. Just recycle the mercury from the retired thermometers, thermastats, and recycled flourescents already out there.

    @LittleJoe: “So if they are giving out 1,000,000 of these bulbs is that not putting 1,000,000 old bulbs in the dumpster overnight?” Only if those 1 million customers only have one lightbulb socket left using an incandescent – otherwise they can save the replaced incandescent until they need to replace a burned out incandescent.

  35. I just wanted to clarify one thing. The reason why everyone is talking about mercury and worrying is because the Videographer (ie The Consumerist) started the interviews (at least mine) with, “Don’t you think it is hypocritical of Home Depot to give these lights out on Earth Day?”

    If The Consumerist didn’t ask about mercury in the first place, we probably wouldn’t be discussing it.

  36. bcarder says:

    So how much mercury are in the bulbs? What if one breaks in your home? Do you have to call in a toxic clean up crew? Why do we have to use mercury anyway? What purpose does it serve?