Fluorescent Bulb Disposal
How should you dispose of compact fluorescent light bulbs?
LIGHT BULB FACT: Did you know that fluorescent bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer?
Fluorescent is the right light choice. Being both long-lasting and energy-efficient, the use of fluorescent lighting has become wide-spread in schools, hospitals, office buildings and stores, and smaller compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are lighting more and more homes. Many countries around the world, including the United States, are enacting have enacted laws to phase out incandescent lighting in favor of more energy efficient options.
Disposing Mercury from CFLs
A small amount of elemental mercury remains an essential component of fluorescent bulbs. While elemental mercury is a hazardous material, there is only a risk of exposure if you inhale the moment the fluorescent light bulb breaks. Handling bulbs with care is important.
Fluorescent bulbs necessitate the inclusion of mercury – however they greatly decrease its use since the bulbs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs, lasting up to 10 times longer and requiring less frequent replacement. This kind of energy efficiency affects that overall mercury released by coal-burning power plants.
Under federal regulations, commercial and industrial users of fluorescent bulbs are required to manage mercury-containing light bulbs as a hazardous waste after they burn out. Households are generally exempted from these regulations, although some states may require the bulbs to be sorted with household hazardous waste or taken to a recycling facility. Learn more about the household hazardous waste collection and recycling programs in your area by visiting U.S. EPA.
Recycling fluorescent light bulbs
Most components of a fluorescent bulb can be recycled—the metal end caps can be sold as scrap; the glass tubing is remanufactured into new glass products; and the mercury and phosphor are recovered and reused for new light bulbs.
Many bulb-manufacturers offer take-back programs, in which burnt-out lamps can be mailed in for recycling free of charge. Visit the manufacturers’ web site for more information. Association member, Waste Management, offers a national bulb recycling program by mail. In addition, several retailers including Home Depot, IKEA and True Value also accept bulbs for recycling year-round, while others, such as Wal-Mart, hold special take-back days. Be sure to carefully handle and package the bulbs to ensure they do not break in transit. (Tip: An easy way to pack them is to box them up in the packaging from your new light bulbs.)
Once the light bulbs are collected, they are sent to recycling facilities across the country for processing. The light bulbs are mechanically crushed and sorted into their separate components. A vacuum system is used to ensure that toxic substances are not released into the air when the bulbs are crushed.