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 a household hazardous waste event. They are also accepted at all Home Depot, IKEA, Batteries + Bulbs, 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
Can I recycle CFLs in my curbside recycling program?
For most areas, the answer is no. In California, there are a few cities that will accept CFLs curbside via Waste Management. However, these municipalities provide a special kit to store the bulbs; they don’t go in the recycling bins or carts. You should definitely not put CFLs directly in your recycling bin, even if your local program accepts glass.
Where can I recycle CFLs?
You can take your CFLs to an antifreeze, batteries, oil, paint (ABOP) facility, or a household hazardous waste event. They are also accepted at all Home Depot, IKEA, Batteries + Bulbs, and Lowe’s stores in the U.S., as well as many regional chains.
To find a drop-off location near you, RecycleABulb.com
Where can I find mail-back programs for CFLs?
The following companies offer mail-back recycling programs for CFLs for a fee:
Why do CFLs contain mercury?
Mercury is an excellent conductor of electricity, and it’s the key component that makes CFLs so energy efficient. The good news is that manufacturers have significantly reduced each bulb’s mercury content since the early 2000s. The 4 milligrams in a CFL is much less than the 500 milligrams you’ll find in mercury thermometers.
Why should I not use a vacuum if I break a CFL?
The worst thing you can do if a CFL breaks is try to vacuum up the broken glass. Vacuuming will spread mercury vapor into the air and make it more toxic for you and your family. Because the mercury usually bonds with the glass casing, it should be in solid enough form that you can scoop up any glass pieces with cardboard.
Why is it easier to find recycling options for CFLs than fluorescent tubes?
As mentioned above, retailers make up a large percentage of the market for CFL recycling. These stores accept CFLs and not fluorescent tubes. Even with mail-back programs, you’ll find more programs that take CFLs than tubes because they are smaller and therefore easier to package and ship. Please don’t try to recycle your fluorescent tubes through retail collection bins, as the bulbs will likely break and contaminate the store.
Are LED bulbs better for the environment than CFLs?
Yes, but they cost more ($5 to $8 per bulb vs. $3 per bulb for CFLs). Light-emitting diodes (LEDs, the bulbs commonly used in electronics now available in light bulb form) last about three times as long as CFLs and use two-thirds of the energy. They also don’t contain mercury, can be used on dimmer switches and power up instantly. Because they don’t contain mercury, though, you’ll have a difficult time finding a recycling market for LED bulbs.
- 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