If you’ve made the switch and you’re like me, you really enjoy using compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs in your home. Why?
- CFL’s save a ton of energy (lowering my electricity bill).
- They last a long time (lowering my cost of replacement).
- They’re getting consistently lower in cost.
- I can now buy 60 watt equivalent 19 watt dimmable CFL bulbs that last an average of 15,000 hours. Using them for 4 hours/day means almost 11 years of use!
But, like everything else in life, there are tradeoffs. CFL’s need to be recycled if they’re not broken (Get your own fluorescent lamp recycling kit here) and when they break, they release a very small amount of mercury vapor. Mercury IS dangerous, but compared to the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere from coal fired power plants (mercury is locked up in coal until it’s burned), the amount released from a broken CFL is miniscule, BUT it IS in your home – a confined space.
CFLs contain an average of 3.5 to 4.5 milligrams of mercury which is sealed within the glass tubing – and manufacturers are diligently working to reduce that amount. Mercury is used because it allows the bulb to operate as an efficient light source, though no mercury is released from unbroken CFL bulbs. But because CFLs DO contain that small amount of mercury, the EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:
1. Before Clean-up: Air Out the Room:
After a CFL has been broken, move people and pets out of the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more to allow the mercury vapor from the broken CFL to escape the room. Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
2. Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces:
Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder from the broken CFL 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. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass pieces and powder. Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place towels in the glass jar or plastic bag. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces since these could propel the mercury vapors and residue into the air.
3. Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug:
Carefully pick up the glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag. Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder from the broken CFL. If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken. Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.
4. Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding, etc.:
If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact as a result of a broken CFL, the glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb may stick to the fabric. Any clothing or bedding that has come in contact with the glass or mercury-containing powder should be thrown away. Don’t wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments from the broken CFL in the clothing may contaminate the washing machine and/or pollute public sewers or your own septic system. You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to just the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you are wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing hasn’t come into direct contact with the materials from the broken CFL bulb. If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes. Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.
5. Disposal of Clean-up Materials
Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area (see link below), BEFORE you dispose of broken CFLs in your regular trash. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.
6. Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Air Out the Room During and After Vacuuming
The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window before vacuuming. Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.
What is “proper disposal?”
Check with your local or state government about mercury collection programs. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.
CFL bulbs are here to stay because more and more governments are moving to ban the incandescent light bulb. Learning to live with these newer energy efficient little jewels means accepting the good (energy savings, cheaper in the long run) with their not-so-good (mercury vapor, pain to clean up). All in all though, I’m using them and loving every minute of the savings!
Photo by fangleman