While a burnt out incandescent light bulb can simply be thrown away, this is not the proper way
to get rid of a burnt-out compact fluorescent lamp (CFL). It may not seem like a big deal, but it’s more of a hazard than one might realize due to their mercury levels.
In fact, most commercial-grade fluorescent lights go out at businesses, they’re carefully
controlled and recycled by law – yes, by law! – under the EPA’s Universal Waste Rule.
Unfortunately, not much direction has been given residential CFL users on their proper disposal,
and because they look similar to standard light bulbs, they’re often treated the same way –
thrown away, rather than recycled.
Mercury is an easily transferrable neurotoxin that can affect the brain, liver, and kidneys. It can also lead to developmental disorders in children and babies in the womb. It’s been reported that CFLs contain about 5 milligrams mercury, and that the amount of mercury in one CFL “is
enough to contaminate up to 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels,” and it’s also
been reported that just one gram of mercury into a 20-acre lake is strong enough to make the fish in it inedible! It’s so bad that some states (including California, Washington, Minnesota, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont) have even mandated CFL recycling by law!
The recycling industry reported that roughly 400 million CFLs were purchased in the USA in
2007, but only 2% of those were recycled – the equivalent of 320 million CFLs in the trash!
That’s a potential environmental crisis in the making! If CFLs are on the market, people will use them. That’s okay, but people need to be informed on how to properly handle them once they’ve been burnt-out. That’s why the EPA has an extensive action plan for what to do if a CFL breaks in your house, including opening windows and evacuating the room! This article will focus on how to properly dispose of and recycle these bulbs. Here’s how:
- First, make sure you remove (and install) a CFL bulb by grasping the plastic portions of the base only. If the CFL is screwed into a light socket by twisting the tube rather than the plastic base, it can cause the vacuum seal or glass tubing in the CFL to break. Once certain parts are exposed to oxygen, they are more liable to become defective or overheat, causing it to burn out much more quickly and potentially break. Grab the base and twist counterclockwise to remove it.
- Next, make sure you’re properly storing both your old and new CFLs in containers that will
prevent breaking, such as in their original boxes or boxes from replacement bulbs. You can also
store them in containers supplied by fluorescent light bulb recyclers. These recyclers will most
likely require burnt-out bulbs be unbroken. Mark your box of non-working bulbs to note that
they’re for recycling.
- Finally, take your burnt-out bulbs and lamps to a local household collection company, or contact
a fluorescent light bulb recycler and have them picked up. Home improvement and hardware
stores often have special recycling bins for CFLs, so ask around. Then, just keep that box of
burned out bulbs in your garage and take them to be recycled next time you’re heading to a home
You can also find a local recycling center that accepts fluorescent bulbs and
tubes by searching on Earth911. Here’s the link to their list of recycling resources in the Twin
Falls area, including mail-in centers!