CFL Light Bulb Disposal

What is a CFL light bulb? CFL stands for Compact fluorescent lamps, which are an energy-efficient alternative to the more typical incandescent light bulbs. As we discussed a few days ago, however, as of January 1, 2014, incandescents are on their way out, so you may be looking into greener options. CFLs are among the most popular green lighting options and they are likely the one that comes to mind when you think of an energy-efficient light bulb: the whitish bulb with a strange shape made of a twisting and curling tube. Although CFLs last ten times longer than your average incandescent (so you probably won’t be throwing yours away anytime soon), we thought it might be a good idea to go over the mechanics of CFL light bulb disposal. Because they contain mercury (which is a vapor contained inside the CFL’s glass tubing), it is important that you dispose of them properly—recycling them rather than throwing them in a trash can.

CFL Light Bulb Disposal


Where to do CFL Recycling

Although many states do allow CFL light bulb disposal in your regular trash can, recycling is better for the environment and (thanks to increasing awareness) easier than ever.

However, you should not throw a CFL light bulb into a bulk recycling bin. Like batteries, they require specific attention. To find out where you can safely recycle CFLs, check with your local municipal solid waste agency directly or search online for local options. Earth 911 allows you to search for CFL light bulb disposal centers near you. You can also recycle used, unbroken CFLs at IKEA stores and the Home Depot.

If you don’t have the option to recycle and your state or local environmental regulatory agency allows you to dispose of CFLs in the garbage, at least take care to seal them in plastic bags and dispose of them in an outdoor trash can.

Cleaning Up a Broken CFL

If your CFL bulb breaks, don’t panic. Most of the mercury should remain with the lamp fragments. This is what you should do:

  1. Clear the room of all people and pets, especially young children.
  2. Ventilate the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window.
  3. Shut off your AC.
  4. Use stiff paper or cardboard to scoop up the glass fragments. If you’re working with a hard surface, damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes may work better.
  5. Seal the fragments in a plastic bag or a glass jar with a metal lid.
  6. Use duct tape to remove any fragments or powder still on the floor. Do not vacuum the broken glass. This could cause the mercury to spread.
  7. Place the plastic bag (or glass jar) and used duct tape somewhere outside until they can be disposed of properly.
  8. Wash your hands thoroughly.
  9. If any clothing or bedding came into contact with the broken glass or powder, throw them away (washing the items could cause mercury fragments to contaminate your washing machine or pollute your sewage).
  10. Check with your local government to learn about CFL recycling and disposal requirements. Some localities require that all CFL bulbs (broken or unbroken) be recycled. Others will allow you to dispose of the broken CFL with your regular garbage.

CFL Light Bulb Disposal

Mercury is a neurotoxin and it is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women. For this reason, it is important that you take proper CFL light bulb disposal seriously.

It’s not easy being green, but it’s worth it.