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Disposing of Fluorescent Bulbs Properly

Posted by Jesse Willoughby, President Lighting Solutions on Sep 23rd 2020

Since linear fluorescent and compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs contain mercury, a hazardous material, dealing with broken or defective fluorescent bulbs needs to be done in a safe manner. Though the amount of mercury in a fluorescent light bulb is extremely small, when multiplied by millions of fluorescent bulbs in a landfill, the contamination is huge. The average amount of mercury in a fluorescent lamp is about 20 milligrams (mg). Obviously, the amount of mercury in a bulb varies according to size, manufacturing specifications, and other factors.

How Do I Clean Up a Broken Fluorescent Bulb

  • Do not use a vacuum. This will result in the Mercury being introduced into the air and be ingested by breathing.
  • Turn power off to the fixture containing the bulb, to avoid an electrical shock.
  • Turn off the heating or cooling system to prevent spreading the mercury throughout the home or building.
  • Use a piece of cardboard to clean up all the broken pieces. The contaminated cardboard can be thrown away without contaminating other household items. Many experts recommend wearing a breathing mask and gloves when cleaning up a bulb.
  • Do not use a broom or any cleaning supplies when the broken pieces are cleaned up. Doing so will contaminate the broom and cleaning supplies, and these contaminated supplies will need to be thrown away.
  • Pick up any remaining small pieces and dust up with a dampened paper towel or tape. ( Do not touch any of this debris without gloves).
  • Place all the broken pieces, cardboard, and anything used to clean up the broken lamp in a air tight container., such as a glass jar with a metal lid, a sealable plastic container, or a sealable plastic bag. Store the container in a safe place.
  • The container and the debris inside will need to be taken to a facility authorized to dispose of hazardous waste. (More on this later)

How do I dispose of Broken and Defective Fluorescent Bulbs

Broken or defective fluorescent light bulbs should be stored in a place that is not easily accessible till they can be taken to a facility equipped to accept hazardous waste. Defective fluorescent bulbs should be stored in a cardboard box to avoid breakage. There are many options for disposing of broken and defective fluorescent bulbs.

  • Many Retailer Will Take Fluorescents from Customers for Recycling (Home Depot, Lowes, etc).
  • Local Waste Collection Agencies, Contact your local waste collection agency to find collection schedules in your area or drop-off locations if curbside collections are not available. Note that waste collection agencies provide services that are usually free, though some may charge a small fee.
  • Some bulb manufacturers and other organizations sell pre-labeled recycling kits that allow you to mail used bulbs to recycling centers. The cost of each kit includes shipping charges to the recycling center. You fill up a kit with old bulbs, seal it, and bring it to the post office or leave it for your postal carrier. Websites that provide more information about mail-back services.

If your state or local environmental regulatory agency permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the regular household trash, seal the bulb in a plastic bag and put it into the outside trash for the next normal trash collection. This is not good for the environment.

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