Compact Florescent Bulb Safety–

We all know that those curvy florescent light bulbs last way longer than traditional bulbs and are better for the environment (not to mention they can save you serious cash on your electric bill). But did you know that each bulb contains a small amount of mercury? And what do you when they do eventually burn out?

Here is a video on the subject from MSNBC.

To be sure, the benefits of using these bulbs considerably outweigh the drawbacks. Consider this: In California alone, the use of CFLs has spared more than 1.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into our envionment.

It helps to know how to dispose of the bulbs (take them to your local hazardous waste site or collection facility. If you don’t know where that is, click here).

And here are the steps for what to do if you break one of these in your house (which, if your like me, will happen, it is just a matter of time), again from MSNBC.

How to clean up a fluorescent bulb
Before cleanup: Vent the room
1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
2. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

Cleanup steps for hard surfaces
3. Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
4. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
5. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the glass jar or plastic bag.
6. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

Cleanup steps for carpeting or rug
3. Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
4. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
5. If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
6. Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

Disposal of cleanup materials
7. Immediately place all cleanup materials outside the building in a trash container or outdoor protected area for the next normal trash.
8. Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing cleanup materials.
9. Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a recycling center.

Future cleaning of carpeting or rug
10. For at least the next few times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window prior to vacuuming.
11. Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.

Here is the full article from MSNBC as well.

Please spread the word about this. If CFLs enter the waste stream via landfills, we will have mercury contaminating our drinking water.

4 Responses to Compact Florescent Bulb Safety–

  1. CatherineinBarre March 28, 2008 at 5:31 am #

    In Vermont, many hardware stores accept old CFLs. I think all ACEs do.

  2. Jen March 28, 2008 at 9:48 am #

    Thank you for posting this. I have long been worried about this and I'm glad that it's starting to hit the media. My husband and I hesitated switching to CFLs because of this and although we have begun switching, I'm still very frustrated with the lack of disposal options. I am lucky to live only 20 minutes from an IKEA so that is the only place I will buy my CFLs (since they will recycled used ones). I first bought them at Wal-Mart and returned them when I learned they didn't have a take-back program. I then went to Home Depot because the Today Show said that they take them back…wrong!…I wrote to Home Depot to inquire and they instructed me to check the website on the back of the packaging which listed a recycling center 44 miles away from my home(the only one listed in the entire State of Texas)…I have since found a closer facility on another website. I wrote to both Home Depot and WalMart to ask them why they don't have take back programs and neither of them responded. What's even more frustrating is that people like Oprah do "green" shows to promote CFLs, but don't even mention the mercury in them and the clean-up and disposal requirements of CFLs. Both of which I think are as important as talking about all the benefits of CFLs. I think that retailers who sell CFLs should be required to have take-back programs. This is the most convenient option for consumers and if it's not made convenient, the bulbs are going to end up in home trash and then in our landfills (which I included in my emails to Home Depot and WalMart).Thanks again for helping to spread the word about this…I love your blog, BTW, I subscribe to it and read it every day.

  3. Katy Farber March 28, 2008 at 6:04 pm #

    Thanks for the tip, Catherine! And Jen, YES! every store that sells these should have to take them back to be recycled! Not many people in this world are as diligent as you and they will most certainly end up in the landfill, polluting our water and soil. There should be complete retail and manufacturer responsibility. I totally agree– everyone seems to gloss over the mercury piece of this– we need to be thoughtful and place for the problem instead of pretending it doesn't exist. Way to go for emailing Walmart and Home Depot. Should we organize an email campaign from Non-Toxic Kids readers??I am so glad you like the blog. Please help me spread the word about it. I would love to sustain the effort and do it for the long haul. Thanks for reading and commenting, and for your action steps about this issue!


  1. Green Parenting Links (eco-baby gifts, CFL recycling, and natural child birth)-- | Non-toxic KidsNon-toxic Kids - May 24, 2014

    […] news from a major corporation! A long while ago I wrote about the problem of mercury in those nifty energy saving CFL bulbs we are all buying. Seems there are lots of folks throwing them away and not knowing they need to be recycled to […]

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