Do I need special discarding measures with CFLs?


Do I need special discarding measures with CFLs?

Asked by Cheryl Headlee

A CFL was accidently broken and I was told the stuff inside was hazardous to my home and family and I could not discard it, but had to take it to a special facility? Is this person correct? That's a lot of trouble to through away a light bulb!

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David Bergman's picture

While broken CFLs do indeed need to be handled carefully, there's also a lot of hysteria about them. You DON'T need to call the hazmat guys in their white suits.

The US EPA has very simple and clear instructions on their website here.

Before Cleanup

  • Have people and pets leave the room.
  • Air out the room for 5-10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outdoor environment.
  • Shut off the central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one.
  • Collect materials needed to clean up broken bulb: stiff paper or cardboard; sticky tape; damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes (for hard surfaces); and a glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag.

During Cleanup

  • DO NOT VACUUM. Vacuuming is not recommended unless broken glass remains after all other cleanup steps have been taken.
  • Vacuuming could spread mercury-containing powder or mercury vapor.
  • Be thorough in collecting broken glass and visible powder.
  • Scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  • Place the used tape in the glass jar or plastic bag.

See the detailed cleanup instructions for more information, and for differences in cleaning up hard surfaces versus carpeting or rugs. Place cleanup materials in a sealable container.

After Cleanup

  • Promptly place all bulb debris and cleanup materials, including vacuum cleaner bags, outdoors in a trash container or protected area until materials can be disposed of.
  • Avoid leaving any bulb fragments or cleanup materials indoors.
  • Next, check with your local government about disposal requirements in your area, because some localities require fluorescent bulbs (broken or unbroken) be taken to a local recycling center. If there is no such requirement in your area, you can dispose of the materials with your household trash.
  • If practical, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the heating/air conditioning system shut off for several hours. --------- The problem is a tiny dot of mercury that all fluorescent bulbs contain.

We're almost at the point where we'll have LEDs and other new energy-efficient light bulb technologies that are mercury-free and can substitute for all of our incandescent and CFL bulbs. (Many are already available.)

In the meantime, CFLs are still a better choice than incandescent in most locations.

For more information:

Read "What type of light bulbs should I use? I'm looking for ways to reduce the energy I use for lighting (without resorting to candles!)." a Q&A answered by David Bergman.