Most of us should be familiar with the benefits of CFLs -- that they can save $$$ in electricity costs (given their longer lifespan vs. incandescent bulbs) and they reduce the production of greenhouse gases. Tell you something you don't know, right?
Well, the knock on CFLs is how to dispose of them properly, given their mercury content. Critics apparently exaggerate the danger of mercury exposure -- the amount of mercury in each CFL bulb could fit on the tip of a pencil. But it's true that it's unwise to toss them away in the trash where they and their brethren eventually find their way to a landfill and contaminate ground water. IKEA stores apparently accept old CFL bulbs, and there's a helpful website out there that lists CFL recycling sites.
One wonders the feasibility in this country of mandating CFLs in commercial and residential use. It can be done, apparently: Australia is gradually phasing out incandescent bulbs country-wide. Nice. I'm afraid it will require a similar mandate in this country to compel people to switch to more expensive CFLs. I have doubts about my fellow citizens following proper disposal guidelines. (There's a similar problem with prescription medication disposal. See this NYT article for more info.) A better tack would be to reduce/remove mercury content from CFLs altogether, which appears to be the direction we're heading, according to Slate.
I will also use this opportunity to shamelessly self-promote my fellow LBJ Sustainability Working Group members' plans to help orchestrate (with other student groups) a CFL bulb exchange some time this semester. We are in the process of soliciting CFL bulb donations from companies like Lowe's and WalMart --please let me know if you have any contacts at these or other companies that might be interested in co-sponsoring the event.