Compact fluorescent bulbs are touted as extremely energy efficient, long-lasting, and cost-effective. This is all true: Compared to a standard incandescent bulb, each CFL lasts 10 times as long and saves $30 in energy costs. You may have also heard about the mercury content of CFLs and the warning that they should never be thrown in the trash.
So, why is this bulb considered safe for your home but not for the trash?
The mercury content is not an issue unless the bulb breaks. Each bulb contains an extremely small amount, and it’s not released at all as long as the bulbs are intact. Given that information, most people assume that the CFL recycling issue has to do with preventing toxins from leaching into the soil in the landfill.
Actually, that’s not quite it, because chances are CFLs are going to break in the trash before they ever get to the landfill, which means the people with health concerns at stake are waste management workers.
Waste management workers can unknowingly handling trash with broken CFLs and become exposed to dangerous levels of mercury.
If your CFL burns out, it’s very important to find an EPA approved CFL recycling site. Some home improvement stores, such as Lowes and Home Depot, collect CFLs for recycling at retail locations. You can also find recycling locations in your area on the EPA bulb recycling site.
If a bulb does break in your home, follow these steps: Put gloves on, grab a mask to protect yourself against the dust, and gather the broken bits into a sealed container using a damp paper towel. Turn off your central air or fans for 15 minutes, and drop off the container at a recycling center. For more details, check out the EPA’s Cleanup Instructions.