Nerds of the Round Table

For all things good and nerdy

CFL Safety and Disposal

The unthinkable happened. They told me they would outlive me, their light would go on forever. They lied…

A CFL (Compact Florescent Light) bulb burned out on me.

A variety floruscent light bulbs.

To be entirely fair, the bulb now rattles. It sounds like it is in the base which may mean that the connecting wire in the base burnt out. That isn’t very reassuring, but it means to me that the bulb itself would have still functioned.

So, my next step was to dispose of the bulb, but how? I know I cannot put it in the garbage. That is a really big no-no. CFLs contain mercury. Not very much (less than 4 milligrams), but it is mercury none the less. Most states have laws prohibiting the disposal of mercury in normal trash due to environmental impact. Like a diligent nerd, I checked out the packaging for the replacement bulb (Great Value brand) and was pleased to find a website: lamprecycle.org. The site is actually very handy, but not quite what I needed. In the lower left corner of their main page, they had an external link where I found my answers: earth911.com.

Earth911 is exactly what I need for all my disposal issues. Simply put in the separate search terms of what you want to get rid of and where it is located and let their database tell you how. They list drop-off, pick-up, and mail-in services. Some services will even send you a box for you to fill and send back. The services listed range from simple things like burned out CFLs to industrial pick-up like ezcyclebox.com. Note that the search results don’t specify if there will be a cost to the owner and NotRT and Earth911 are not responsible for any expenses incurred during recycling. It isn’t always free to be green.

So then I began thinking about broken bulbs. They contain mercury (the reason you can’t just put them in the trash), so why are they safe for my home. This time I went back to LampRecycle and found their Broken Bulbs Page. Now, I won’t go into all the details of dangers or cleaning, but I will say this: we survived decades with mercury thermometers in our lives and they contain a higher mercury poisoning risk then CFLs. Both LampRecycle and the EPA agree that there is no immediate danger to being in the same room as a broken CFL. If you do break a CFL and find this article in a panic, here are the basics:

  1. Open a window (regardless of the weather).
  2. Shut off any airflow systems (like central air or heat).
  3. Take your computer and exit the room and visit http://epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html

Well, I think that covers my CFL adventure today. For more reading, I have a list of off-site links for you:

  • http://lamprecycle.org/ – A great reference for some basic CFL ownership and usage information.
  • http://earth911.com/ – From CFLs to televisions and beyond, this is a great source to begin your search for recycling support. Just remember, not all recycling is free and call before you go.
  • http://epa.gov/cfl/ – The government also has a lot of CFL information, if you trust them.
  • http//energystar.supportportal.com/ – Contains some valuable information about why you might want to switch to a CFLs.
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3 responses to “CFL Safety and Disposal

  1. Brad Buscher January 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

    CFLs do save energy and are considered more environmentally friendly than other bulbs, but they also contain small amounts of mercury. As this blog post shows, it is important for consumers to realize that CFLs and fluorescent bulbs require special handling. Like all mercury-containing fluorescent lights, CFLs should be properly stored, transported and recycled to prevent these fragile bulbs from breaking and emitting hazardous mercury vapor. They cannot be thrown away in the trash, but should be taken to a recycling center or disposed of by using a proven recycling box. However, taking them to a recycling center may not always be the most efficient solution. Consumers can use a recycling box to ship bulbs instead. If consumers choose this option, it is important to select a packaging configuration that effectively contains mercury vapor. A recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota tested the effectiveness of various packages in containing mercury vapor emitted from broken fluorescent lamps. The study found that many packages do not sufficiently contain mercury vapor, such as single-layer cardboard boxes (representing the original manufacturer’s box or container) as well as single layer boxes with a sealed plastic bag. Just one configuration—consisting of a zip-closure plastic-foil laminate bag layered between two cardboard boxes—minimized exposure levels below acceptable occupational limits, as defined by state and federal regulations and guidelines. Find out more about this proven packaging method at vaporlok.blogspot.com/2010/05/layers-of-protection-packaging-used.html

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