Ads and packaging materials for compact fluorescent light bulbs proclaim that they use less energy and last longer than standard incandescent bulbs. However, if you read the fine print on the packaging, you’ll see that CFLs contain mercury.
While that may sound alarming, there’s no need to worry. The amount of mercury inside the glass tubes of an average CFL is minuscule. By way of comparison, a CFL contains about 4-5 milligrams of mercury, while a glass fever thermometer contains 500 milligrams.
CFLs are safe to use, and they release no mercury when in operation. Even if you break one, the amount of mercury that may become airborne poses a low exposure risk, says ENERGY STAR, the government-backed energy-efficiency program. When CFLs burn out or break, the best course of action is to recycle them.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency puts CFLs in the category of Household Hazardous Waste, but there’s no federal requirement that the bulbs be recycled. Some hardware stores and other retailers may have CFL recycling buckets on hand. And some communities have annual hazardous waste collection events.
To find out if there’s a facility or store near you that accepts CFLs, visit www.earth911.org or call 800-CLEANUP. Be sure to call the facility that’s listed before you make the trip, to confirm that it allows people to drop off CFLs.
If one of these recycling options is not available, you can put CFLs out with the regular trash—but in no case should you burn or incinerate them.
—NRECA COOPERATIVE RESEARCH NETWORK
Tips for disposing of CFLs
HERE’S WHAT the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says about CFL disposal:
BURNED-OUT CFLs Put bulb in a sealed plastic bag, and place it with your regular trash.
BROKEN CFLs Open nearby windows to disperse any vapor that might escape, and sweep up the glass shards. (Don’t use your hands.) Wipe the area with a damp paper towel to remove glass fragments. Put the fragments, the base of the bulb, and the paper towel in a sealed plastic bag, and place it with your trash.