All fluorescent light bulbs contain a small amount of mercury. To keep the mercury out of our air and water, the bulbs should be disposed of properly. For perspective, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) average about four milligrams of mercury in each bulb compared to 500 milligrams found in a mercury thermometer. Many manufacturers have introduced new CFLs with even lower mercury content — as little as one milligram.
The good news is as CFLs have become more popular, disposal programs have grown, too. Some retailers, including Home Depot, Lowe’s and IKEA now offer CFL recycling programs.
In most communities, you can also dispose of CFLs at centers set up to recycle or safely store household hazardous wastes such as paints, batteries and automotive oil. Here are some resources:
Store used fluorescent bulbs in a safe place until it’s time to take them for recycling. It’s a good idea to call ahead and confirm program availability. Some disposal facilities may charge a fee.
What about other lights?
- Fluorescent tubes: These should be disposed of properly, just like CFLs. Ballasts also need proper disposal, especially older magnetic ones that may have PCBs. Check the links above for disposal sites and possible costs.
- LED bulbs: Recycling is a good idea, especially for the metal used.
- Incandescent and halogen bulbs: Okay to put in the trash.
What if a CFL breaks?
The Environmental Protection Agency offers instructions on how to clean up a broken CFL.