How to properly dispose of CFL bulbs

How to properly dispose of CFL bulbs

A CFL bulb or Compact Fluorescent Lamp is an energy-saving lightbulb. They were made to replace older incandescent bulbs. CFL bulbs use more energy to turn on and heat up, but once heated, they use 70% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

When to recycle CFL bulbs

A 13-watt ENERGY STAR CFL lightbulb will provide around 6,000 hours or more of use. Once they’re completely used, the bulb will die and not light up again. Once this happens, the bulb will have to be replaced and recycled. Some bulbs will even ‘pop’ when you turn the switch on. A bright light will shine then go right out. If this happens, the bulb is blown.

Where to recycle CFL bulbs

Recycling centers are set up across the country. Many centers accept CFL bulbs as a recyclable material. There are a few places to check to see if they accept older CFL lightbulbs for recycling. When in doubt, it’s always best to ask if a center takes them or not!

  • Local waste collection agencies
    Local waste collection agencies, dumps or recycling centers often recycle CFL bulbs. Curbside collections may not be available for bulb recycling. Some may only collect hazardous waste once or twice a year. Earth911 has a search tool to help find local waste collection agencies near you that take CFL lightbulbs. Generally, if the local waste agency accepts batteries, paint, and oil, they’ll also take CFL bulbs.
  • Local hardware stores
    Many hardware stores, such as Lowes or the Home Depot, provide a recycling center to drop off used CFL bulbs. Some centers do not take UV ray bulbs or other bulbs. Check with your hardware store about their specific bulb recycling policy. Other small local hardware stores may also have a recycling program available, but each one is different.
  • Online recycling centers
    Many online recycling companies will provide mail back containers to fill with CFL bulbs. Places such as Recycle a Bulb provide homeowners with an easy way to recycle, without having to find a qualified recycling center near them. This also means you don’t have to call or drive around to find a place that recycles the bulbs.

How to recycle CFL bulbs

Every place is different on recycling CFL lightbulbs. Some of these steps are common sense, but it’s important to note them when replacing and recycling your bulbs. People have been electrocuted in the past just by switching out old bulbs for new ones!

  • Safely remove the bulb from the fixture
    Turn the light switch off and allow the old bulb to cool prior to touching it, about 15 – 20 minutes. Turn off the fuse to the specific room or unplug the lamp the bulb is being removed from. Once cool, keep the light off. Use a rag, washcloth, or T-shirt to slowly unscrew the lightbulb from the fixture.
  • Correctly store the CFL bulb
    Dead CFL bulbs should be correctly stored to prevent the escape of mercury if the bulb is cracked or crushed. Place them in an airtight plastic bag. To prevent breaking while in the bag, keep them in a padded box. TIP: Label the box they’re placed in to reduce the chances of having them broken.
  • Recycle the CFL bulb properly
    An online mail service, local waste disposal agency or hardware store are all ideal for recycling. Find out the CFL bulb recycling policies. Make use of specific recycling guidelines.

What to do if the bulb breaks

Lightbulbs break from time to time. Many homeowners are concerned about their health when they do, due to the mercury level in the bulb. Knowing adverse health affects caused by mercury is helpful, as any level of mercury can be dangerous. But the amount of mercury that you’re exposed to when a bulb breaks is minimal. With under 5 milligrams of mercury per bulb, one small break will not cause catastrophic health reactions. There are cleaning guidelines recommended by the EPA.

  • Before cleaning up
    • Have everyone, even pets, leave the room.
    • Open a window and air the room out for ten minutes.
    • If applicable, shut off the forced air system.
  • During clean up
    • Use a stiff piece of paper or cardboard to scoop up the broken bulb. DO NOT VACUUM! Vacuuming can release the powder and mercury into the air.
    • Use duct tape to pick up any glass shards.
    • Place all cleaning materials, bulb and powder in an airtight sealable bag or container.
  • After clean up
    • Keep all broken pieces and cleaning materials outside of the house.
    • It’s not recommended that they’re thrown in a regular trash bin.
    • Air out the home for as long as possible with the windows open and the forced air system turned off.

All materials used to make CFL bulbs are recyclable and can be reused. Maine, California, and Vermont all require proper recycling of CFL lightbulbs. It’s important to check with your local recycling laws to find out if your state requires it. Light up your rooms with an energy-efficient bulb that is able to do it all, even be recycled and reused!


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