How to Recycle CFLs
One of the easiest ways to go green around the house is to replace your incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Even though these bulbs will last up to 10 years, when they burn out you’ll want to recycle them because they contain mercury.
CFL Recycling Preparation
- When removing a burnt-out CFL from a lamp, you first want to unplug the lamp to prevent electrocution. Likewise, if you’re replacing a CFL in a wall fixture, make sure to turn off the fuse box providing power to that section of the house.
- If the bulb breaks, here’s what to do. There’s no recycling market for broken fluorescent lamps.
- Put the CFL in a plastic zipper bag to prevent any mercury from leaking if it breaks during transportation. Don’t pack multiple CFLs in the same bag, as this will increase the chance of them breaking.
- You can take your CFLs to an antifreeze, batteries, oil, paint (ABOP) facility or household hazardous waste event. They are also accepted at all Home Depot, IKEA and Lowe’s stores in the U.S., as well as many regional chains. Find a drop-off location near you using our Recycling Locator.
Why Recycle CFLs
- Each CFL contains 4 milligrams of mercury, which is harmless when the bulb is intact but potentially toxic if the bulb breaks in a landfill and enters the water stream
- Seven states have banned lamps containing mercury from landfills
- Mercury is a precious metal in limited supply, so reusing even the trace amounts in a CFL in new products is crucial
CFL Recycling Process
CFLs are shipped to a bulb recycler that uses special machines to extract the mercury and break down the aluminum fixtures and glass casing. Mercury can be reused in new bulbs or products like thermostats. Aluminum is recycled as scrap metal, and the glass is downcycled into materials like concrete or ceramic tile.
Frequent CFL Recycling Questions
- 10 Things You Can Recycle Through the Mail: CFLs are just one of many products that you can mail for recycling if local options aren’t available
- CFLs, LEDs and Incandescents, Oh My!: A helpful source for choosing the right lighting option for your home
- I Broke a CFL. Now What?: A step-by-step guide for what to do if you break a fluorescent light