When Upgrading to LEDs, Don’t Trash Your CFLs

Just a few years ago, an energy efficient LED bulb might have cost you $20 or more. But today, you may be able to get as many as six bulbs for that price, and consumers are taking notice.

LEDs were always extremely energy efficient and long lasting -- the high upfront cost was the last thing holding them back from being the obvious choice for most household lamps and fixtures. But while we waited for those prices to drop, many consumers turned to CFL bulbs -- the curly ones -- as a more affordable way to reduce their energy consumption.

Now that LEDs are so accessible, some homeowners are upgrading and wondering what to do with their collection of CFLs, some of which may have thousands of hours of light left in them.

Managing the Mercury

The primary reason why CFLs need to be handled and disposed of carefully is because each bulb contains a small amount of mercury. The mercury content is so low that you don’t need to worry excessively about health risks in the event of a broken bulb, but if thousands of CFLs pile up together in the same landfill, the combined mercury content could prove hazardous. Even in trace amounts per bulb, the risk of soil and water contamination is real.

To avoid this problem, every CFL bulb should be disposed of at a recycling facility, whether it’s broken, whole, burned out or still good.

Recycle Right

Not every recycling facility accepts CFLs. If you have curbside recycling, check the service provider’s website for information specific to CFLs. It may be that they’re able to collect and recycle these bulbs, but only if they’re packaged separately for disposal. Some facilities may require you to deliver CFLs yourself.

In addition to municipal recycling centers, CFL recycling is offered by many business, including hardware and electronics stores. If you’re looking for your nearest CFL recycling location, use Earth911’s recycling search tool.

Accidents Happen

CFLs are made of breakable glass -- a fragile barrier containing the mercury vapor within. Because of the low mercury content, you don’t need to call out the hazmat team if you accidentally break a bulb. But as a precaution, you should still treat cleanup more seriously than you would with an ordinary incandescent bulb.

If a CFL bulb breaks, immediately clear the area of people and pets. If possible, open a window or door to ventilate the room. Turn off the HVAC system so that the mercury isn’t circulated throughout the home.

When it’s time to clean up the mess, leave the vacuum behind. Like your HVAC system, it can blow the mercury vapor around your home. Instead, sweep up all the glass and bulb components into a dustpan and deposit them into a plastic bag.

Use a damp paper towel to wipe down the area, and if necessary, use sticky tape to collect small glass shards. Place all cleaning materials into the bag and seal it up. Afterward, take the bag to your nearest CFL recycling location for safe disposal.

And if you need help with more substantial lighting issues, don’t take the risk of playing with electricity alone -- call up your local, licensed electricians.

Keep Reading More Tips and Tricks

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