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How to Dispose of Energy-Saving Light Bulbs

Written by The SOE Team

Last updated August 21, 2016

Jamie Grill/The Image Bank/Getty images

With incandescent light bulbs practically a thing of the past thanks to a more energy-efficient society, we have all, for the most part, switched to compact fluorescent lighting (CFL). However, all good things must come to an end – or at least an end to a product’s lifecycle.

Back when incandescent lighting was the norm, no one thought twice about throwing away their old light bulbs. In fact, most people didn’t think much about the environment. Now that our collective conscious has caught up, we have the task of figuring out what to do when CFL light bulbs burn out or break.

The main reason properly disposing of CFLs is important lies in their key ingredient – mercury. There isn’t a lot of mercury in each light bulb, but inhaling mercury vapor can cause negative neurological effects.

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How to dispose of CFL light bulbs:

1. Before you do anything, check to see if there is a waste collection agency that will accept CFLs. A great website to check and see if there is a location near you is Earth911. Many, if not most, recycling agencies do not charge for service, but you will probably have to find a way to get there. If you do not have a traditional recycling center near you, many retail stores, like Home Depot or Lowes, accept CFL bulbs for disposal.

2. If your old CFL light bulb is intact and not broken, then take the bulb and put it in a protected container. A common option is to place the bulb in its original packaging. Keeping the bulb protected will ensure that no mercury vapors are released into the air. If your CFL is intact and safe, skip to step five.

3. If your old CFL light bulb is broken, be sure that everyone, including your pets, have left the room. It’s important that small children and pets leave because the vapor could be more harmful to them. Open an exterior door or window to let the room air out for five to 10 minutes.

4. Next, collect any glass or powder that you see. Be careful to avoid shards of glass (no one wants to wear a bandage if they don’t have to). Sweep your floor, and try not to vacuum. Vacuuming could spread mercury vapor throughout the room. If you must use a vacuum, be sure to remove the bag and dispose with the broken CFL bulb. Place all remnants in a sealed container. The EPA recommends a sealable plastic bag or a lidded glass jar.

5. Finally, identify which collection location you want to take your CFL to and drop it off.

Disposing of CFLs in the proper way can seem tedious, but if you want to be safe you need to do it. In fact, in some states you are required. You can check if you live in one of those states by visiting Earth911 or the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s website.

If you simply want to avoid the whole process, you do have other options. Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are becoming more popular and do not contain mercury. LED bulbs use less energy and can save you more money in the long run than CFLs, though they are usually more expensive to purchase.

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