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!