Considered as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), compact fluorescent lamps use low-pressure Mercury-vapor bulbs or tubes that transform UV light into visible light, that we measure in lumens. Also known as high-intensity discharge, HID, or arc light, they come in a few forms: straight, circular, or U-shaped bulbs that require careful disposal.
To justify disposal and recycling hazards, CFLs prove as first-class energy-savers and last up to 10x times longer than old-fashioned bulbs, which makes them the go-to light source for any space, be it household, business, or public. Using fluorescent lighting reduces dependence on coal-based energy sources, thus decreasing the carbon footprint worldwide.
The obvious downside is, however, that it gets tricky to dispose or recycle old or broken fluorescent lights, and in this guide, we answer how to dispose or recycle CFLs properly.
Chemical Elements & Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFLs)
For the most part, Phosphor, Mercury, and Ballast cover the inside of CFL tubes and work collectively to transform electrical energy into visible light efficiently. Other materials:
- Bauxite (alumina for phosphor; aluminum for end caps);
- Copper (end caps);
- Lead (soda-lime glass; ballast; adapter unit);
- Limestone or Dolomite (finely-crushed stone to make soda-lime glass);
- Mercury (vapor in glass tubing);
- Nickel (end caps);
- Phosphate Rock (phosphor);
- Rare Earth Oxides (Lanthanum or Yttrium for Phosphor);
- Silica (glass);
- Soda Ash (soda-lime glass);
- Tin (end caps; glass coatings);
- Tungsten (electrodes);
As you might have guessed, most require delicate waste and recycling.
How Much Mercury Is In A CFL Bulb?
Compared to other dimmable lighting, CFLs contain less Mercury. Newer CFLs contain around 4 to 5 milligrams of Mercury sealed in the tubes, while older models carry higher amounts of the heavy metal. Contrary to popular belief, it is Phosphor that affects light bulb color temperature and the energy label of the product.
At this point, you may wonder why we concern with this information?
How to react in case a CFL breaks at your home or office? When a lamp breaks, Mercury is loose, and you risk it entering your body.
Depending on the exposure time and the amount entering your organism, the risk of Mercury poisoning grows. Symptoms to look out for are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, increased blood pressure, skin rashes, metallic taste, and difficulty with breathing.
Unlike recycling old bulbs of other types, the risks to your health from an individual fluorescent light bulb broken are minimal, but Mercury, lead, and other heavy metals are probably hazardous waste. If you dispose of CFLs the wrong way (burned or landfilled) toxic substances enter into the open and pose a threat to the environment.
This is why it is crucial to know how to dispose of CFL products. Do your part when choosing lights, be it for the kitchen, living room, garden, or any other part of your home, and embrace sustainability!
Can You Recycle CFLs?
You can recycle the metal and glass in fluorescent light bulbs, but the bulb or tube itself requires disposal in a reprocessing facility. Bulb recyclers use specialized technology to extract Mercury safely including lamp processors, compact crush & separation (CCS), HID lamp crushers, distillers to vaporize Mercury
CFL Bulbs Require Proper Disposal
You can’t just throw as regular waste into a recycling bin, as bulbs are easy to shatter. When broken, they release Mercury trapped inside enters your intermediate surroundings, exposing you to the risk of Mercury poisoning.
Although extremely dangerous, the usage of toxic compounds is a worthy trade-off for the sake of product longevity, power, and light efficiency.
How To Manage & Recycle Fluorescent Light Bulbs
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) labels fluorescent bulges as hazardous wastes along with paints, antifreeze, motor oil, batteries, etc., and promotes the safe disposal of CFLs through specialized recycling. It is important to do your homework on ways to handle waste and investigate your areas’ regulations before you dispose of or recycle your old, broken, or unused fluorescent lights,” comments waste & dumpster professional Luke Hancock.
Fluorescent products come in two groups based on their size:
- Classic fluorescent lamps;
- Compact fluorescent lamps.
DO NOT Break Fluorescent Products!
No matter how you will dispose of an old lamp or tube, make sure you pack or fit into containers or sealed plastic bags that will prevent them from breaking and getting washed away from rains or other sources of water.
Where To Throw & Recycle CFLs?
Most components of a bulb you can recycle and there are several options, depending on the waste management plan, the type of property, and living area.
Use waste collection agencies, local retailers, or mail-back services to recycle your CFLs safely and without harming the environment.
Contact a Local Waste Collection Company
Check online to find collection schedules in your location or drop-off sites if curbside collections are not an option.
Note that waste collection agencies:
- Usually provide services free of charge, though some may impose fees.
- Typically, collect domestic hazardous waste only once or twice a year, so you will have to store your old or broken CFL bulbs until the waste gathering happens.
- Manage paints, pesticides, cleaning supplies, or old batteries.
- Accept household waste only from zero-waste movement activists, although some collection programs make the exception for small businesses.
Visit Local Retailers
Various retailers and hardware supply stores offer in-store recycling. Search the web to find stores in your area that provide this option. Another tip is to check directly with the store before you go.
Not all retailers in regional or international chains take part in such campaigns, or simply do not recycle fluorescent bulbs.
Look for Mail-back Services
Some manufacturers sell pre-labeled recycling kits that give you the opportunity to mail out your unused CFLs to local recycling sites, so there are no bulbs in the trash
The procedure is simple,
- fill up a kit with old or bulbs
- (try not to break them),
- seal it tightly, and
- take it to the nearest post office or
- leave it for the postal carrier.
What To Do If A CFL Bulb Breaks?
In the event your CFL breaks in your abode, it is important not to panic and rustle. You must take extra precautions and minimize the exposure time.
The US EPA offers detailed guidelines on the specific steps you must take to clean up the heavy metal and avoid the dangers it can cause to your health and the environment.
Important: DO NOT VACUUM OR BROOM!
Vent the Room
The first thing to do is open the windows and leave the room for 10-15 minutes. Also, don’t forget to turn off the heating/air conditioning system if you have one.
Clean The Fragments Of All Surfaces
Before you clean cracked or shattered fluorescent bulbs:
- Get a mask and gloves to avoid Mercury getting into your organism.
- Use stick paper or cardboard to gather glass fragments.
- Powder and place them in a container with a metal lid (i.e. glass jar) or use a sealed plastic bag.
- Do not vacuum or broom to scoop up broken glass. As mentioned above, Mercury evaporates quickly and by vacuuming you will only disperse it quicker.
- Apply tape to glue and pick up the remaining residue.
- Scrub the area with damp paper towels or a cloth and put them in the container or plastic bag afterward.
- Repeat the same steps mentioned above to wipe clean the surface in case of fragments on carpeting or rugs.
- If you remove all visible residue and want to vacuum afterward, remember to remove the vacuum bag and put it in the container or plastic bag.
- If your vacuum cleaner has a dust container, clean thoroughly.
Dispose of Cleaning Materials
After you remove traces of damaged CFLs:
- Wrap clean-up materials in plastic bags or glass containers.
- Leave them outside the building in a protected area or in a trash bin.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after the clean-up.
- Check with your regional or state government about hazardous waste and disposal requirements in your area. Some prohibit direct rubbish disposal and require you to take CFL or other types of lamps to a recycling center.
Disposal & Recycling CFLs
Compact fluorescent lamps are efficient, energy-saving, have a subtle and soft specter that can go rough because of natural worn-out or systematic electrical problems. Because of their vast distribution, it is important to know not only lighting mistakes in your interior, be it the most-used kitchen, or any other room, but also how to proceed with disposing of unused or broken CFLs. We hope this guide of tips was interesting, informative, and useful for any old bulb or tube used in private homes, businesses, hospitals, schools, as gifts, etc.