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Home Energy Savings | October 23, 2012

CFLs: What You Need to Know About Recycling & Disposal

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are great energy savers. But, there’s a slight catch – they contain mercury. While the amount of this toxic chemical is nominal, these bulbs still require special handling should they break and special recycling when they burn out.

Here are some tips to avoid breaking bulbs and cleanup steps if you do.

Tips on Preventing a Broken CFL

— Always screw and unscrew the CFL by holding the plastic or ceramic base. Do not touch the glass tubing. Before unscrewing, allow the bulb to cool.

— Never forcefully twist the glass tubing. Gently screw in the bulb; don’t over tighten.

— Purchase CFL bulbs with a glass or plastic covering. They look more like incandescent bulbs and may be more durable if dropped.

— Do not to install CFLs in lamps that can be easily knocked over.

Clean-up After the Bulb Breaks

— Open a window or door and air out the room for 5-10 minutes. Turn off your HVAC system.

— Use paper or cardboard to carefully scoop up the fragments and powder. Place the debris and paper in a glass jar or plastic bag.

— Use tape to pick up small fragments and powder and place all items in the jar.

— Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels and place them in the jar. If using the plastic bag, please note that the mercury vapor can still escape; so remove the bag from the home after cleanup.

— Do not vacuum. If you think vacuuming is the only way to remove debris from your carpet, use the hose without any attachments and remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister). Place the bag or wipes in the glass jar/plastic bag.

— Place the jar/plastic bag outside the home in a trash container or other protected area to await disposal.

— Check with your local government regarding disposal requirements. Some localities require users to take broken/unbroken fluorescent bulbs to a local recycling center. If no such requirement exists in your area, you can place the glass jar/plastic bag in your household trash bins (outside of the home).

—  Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.

— Continue to air out the room and leave the HVAC system off for several hours.

Recycling Unbroken CFLs

Virtually all the CFL components can be recycled. To store spent bulbs for recycling, use a plastic bin or a sturdy cardboard box with a lid and line the storage bin with a heavy plastic garbage bag. Unbroken CFLs will hold their mercury indefinitely.

In addition, you may want to visit www.Earth911.com to find local collection sites/drop-off locations, including those operated by private companies and local governments. Some CFL manufacturers also sell pre-labeled recycling kits, which cover shipping charges to recycling centers. Check packaging for the manufacturer’s website for more information. You also may want to visit www.epa.gov/cfl/cflrecycling.html for a list of other mail-back service providers.

Our next blog talks about lighting efficiency in general, including tips for installing dimmers and timers.

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