How to Recycle or Dispose Fluorescent Light Bulbs

An Overview on Recycling CFL Light Bulbs

If you’re a greenie, you’ve likely invested in energy efficient lighting such as compact fluorescent light bulbs for your home and tube-style T5 or T8 fluorescents for your office. They last much longer than incandescent light bulbs and they save enormous amounts of energy (and put out less heat), too. Good for you!

What you may not know is that these light bulbs contain mercury, as well as some other types of light bulbs like mercury vapor lamps and some ultraviolet lamps. But don’t panic! Not only is the amount of mercury in these light bulbs minimal (relatively speaking), it is recyclable:

  • Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) contain about 4 milligrams of mercury, which is far less than the average old-style thermometer (which contains about 500 milligrams) and dental fillings (which often contain 60 to 200 times that of a CFL).[1]
  • Since 50% of electricity used in the US comes from coal-fired power plants, which emitted 50.7 tons of mercury into the air in 2006 (equivalent to 9 billion CFLs worth of mercury), and given that CFLs use 25% less electricity than a standard incandescent light bulb, the net mercury released into the environment is far less with CFLs.[2]
  • Some manufacturers are now making CFLs with as little as 1.4 to 2.5 milligrams of mercury per bulb, which is a significant improvement.[3]

So though there have been some who argue that CFLs are not actually environmentally-friendly, as you can see they are significantly better when it comes to their impact on the planet.

 

The basics of fluorescent recycling

Since mercury-containing light bulbs are considered household hazardous waste (whether or not they are broken), they need to be properly disposed of. Use these steps to ensure that your CFL recycling methods are eco-friendly:

  • Retail fluorescent bulb recycling: Today there are several big box stores that accept light bulbs for recycling, including IKEA and Home Depot. Our recycling database has all of the details on these drop-off recycling centers.
  • Mail-in recycling programs: When there are no drop-off locations for this waste, look into mail-in programs that are often free of charge. Simply mail in your used mercury lamps and they’ll take care of the rest! Find many light bulb recyclers in our resource database.
  • HHW collection: When all else fails, find a household hazardous waste (HHW) drop-off center in your area that will accept this type of waste. Call the solid waste office in your town or city and they should be able to point you in the right direction. Our resource list also has ideas for how to find these collection sites.

 

Safe broken fluorescent light bulb disposal

Sometimes accidents do happen and mercury-containing light bulbs break. When this happens, don’t panic, but follow these safe fluorescent light bulb disposal methods to ensure you protect yourself, your family, and the environment:

  1. Open a window to ensure adequate ventilation and wait a few minutes.
  2. Sweep up all of the broken glass and particulate matter.
  3. Deposit all of the fragmented pieces in a plastic bag.
  4. Using a damp paper towel, wipe up any remaining shards of glass or fine particles.
  5. Place the paper towel in the plastic bag with the broken glass and then wrap again in another plastic bag.
  6. Find a household hazardous waste disposal program in your area where you can properly dispose of this waste. Our recycling database has resources that will help you in your search. If there are none in your area, dispose of the waste in the regular trash as a last resort.
  7. Wash your hands thoroughly to remove any remaining waste you may have picked up.





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References

1  Compact Fluorescent Lights Are Safe for Your Home. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2010, from National Resources Defense Council: http://www.nrdc.org/energy/cfl.pdf

2  Compact Fluorescent Bulbs and Mercury: Reality Check. (2007, June 11). Retrieved July 1, 2010, from Popular Mechanics: http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/reviews/news/4217864

3  Information on Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs) and Mercury. (2008, July). Retrieved July 1, 2010, from ENERGY STAR: http://www.energystar.gov/ia/partners/promotions/change_light/downloads/Fact_Sheet_Mercury.pdf

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