Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shining a light on recycling CFLs

It finally happened ... that compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), which I purchased eons ago, finally died. It lasted for years (literally) and saved energy! It did a fine job! But what do I do with it now?

CFLs are efficient but they do contain small amounts of Mercury. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "... the vast majority of mercury-containing lamps are considered a hazardous waste."

If a CFL is broken, mercury vapors will escape and this could present health problems when the vapors are breathed into the lungs. Some of the possible health issues are: tremors, emotional changes (e.g., mood swings, irritability, nervousness, excessive shyness), insomnia, and neuromuscular changes (such as weakness, muscle atrophy, twitching). For more on the health issues associated with Mercury, click HERE.

CFLs which end up in landfills cause environmental problems. Mercury, which leaks from a broken lamp, can be converted to an organic form that accumulates in living organisms and contaminates the food chain. We're already seeing food contamination ... many species of fish contain high levels of mercury and consumers are cautioned about eating them.

Should we stop using Compact Fluorescent Lamps? No ... their energy savings far outweigh the danger from Mercury. However, disposing of CFLs properly is vital.

According to the EPA, "Virtually all components of a CFL or other fluorescent light bulb can be recycled. The metal end caps, glass tubing, mercury and phosphor powder can all be separated and reused. Recyclers often sell the metallic portions as scrap metal. The recycled glass can be remanufactured into other glass products. The mercury can be recycled into new fluorescent light bulbs and other mercury-containing devices."

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Check with your local garbage service: Find a customer service number (there should be one on your bill). Call and ask if they offer CFL or mercury recycling.

  2. Check with your municipal government: Look up your local government's sanitation services department. Ask if there is either CFL curbside pick-up recycling or if there is a designated drop-off spot.

  3. Check to see if your retailer has a take-back program.

  4. Check on Earth 911 for CFL recycling centers. If nothing comes up for a search with "CFL," try "mercury" or "fluorescent bulbs."

  5. Mail in your CFLs: Some for-profit companies provide recycling if you mail in your bulbs. One of these is

  6. Live near an IKEA? They have recycling bins in every store, and will accept CFLs purchased from any retailer.

  7. Hit up your local Home Depot: As of July 2008, Home Depot has started offering CFL recycling in store. Find the store closest to you here: Home Depot Store Locator

CFLs are energy efficient and ... if recycled ... are earth friendly as well.

As always ... I would love to hear from you!


  1. Your tidbits of information are so helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I learned something new again! First, I have not switched yet to those light bulbs because I am afraid they will light the room differently and then I didn't know they are recylclable! (I know I destroyed that word!)

  3. THank you! I wondered what to do with them - as i'd read about the mercury thing.

    (and I can't wait to do a signing at Malaprops - BB has contacted them already, so I hope it's in the works! yayy! ---and, when you commented that I was "a good person" you made my eyes burn...thank you for saying that)

  4. This was a great post, I use earth911 a lot. They have great info too. Thanks

  5. I am glad you posted about this. When I first changed to CFL's, I had no idea they had mercury. We have a hazardous waste disposal day each month at the local college. You can bring anything like this.
    Lots of electronics have hazardous chemicals also.

  6. I am so glad to learn this about Home Depot, recycling bulbs.

  7. My CFLs are still going strong, but this is good to know for when the time comes.

  8. Very informative...
    I have been using CFLs myself but never new about it containing mercury. In India the awareness about such things is really less...
    I am glad I came across this blog...

  9. Wonders never cease here at your blog! I am so thankful that I found your blog. Because now I know where to take things to be recycled! YEAH!!!!
    We just had an IKEA recently open near us. So thanks for letting me know about them . Also about Home Depot too! And way to go on having your CFL last so long!
    Take care & enjoy the day!

    Nana Net

  10. Even our local Mom and Pop hardware store has a CFL recycling bin! The word IS getting out there! thanks for helping!!!

  11. I will keep this post in mind when my CFLs finally kick the bucket!

  12. Driving down my street the other day, I saw a woman putting a broken lamp out on the curb . . . and in it was a CFL! I planned to stop and grab it on my way back home, but the lamp was gone . . . so hopefully somebody else is using or recycling that bulb now!

  13. This is my worry and the reason I do not use CFLs. I realize they save energy, but they are SOOO potentially harmful that I cannot support them. How many people do not know that they cannot just throw them away? How many people who did get that memo just throw them away anyway because it is easier? I would bet a very large percentage of users. The same as those who still throw away batteries. I have 2 quart-sized bags of batteries ready to recycle, and no place to take them, so I just keep them for now. The same will be true of CFLs in some places.

    I am sorry, but I cannot get on this wagon.

  14. Incandescent bulbs are banned here in Canada and because of that most (even small) hardware stores have a take back program. Sinclair, if you're not getting on the band wagon by not using CFL's, would you atleast consider using LED's at some point? I'm a huge fan of LED lighting.

    In fact, I'm so gung-ho on LED technology that I've even switched all my camera lights to LED standards and they've been a blessing! They last longer during shoots and they never heat up! Anyways, sorry I got a bit off topic, but for those who don't support using CFL's, maybe LED could be an alternative. Studies show that they use less than 1% of energy used by a regular incandescent...which goes a long, long way to reducing our footprint.

    Thanks, Footprints for raising this topic!