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Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) are a great alternative to traditional incandescent light bulbs. They are more energy-efficient, which means that they are more affordable. They last longer so they don’t require the hassle of frequent replacement. And in theory they are greener for the earth because they aren’t thrown out as often. However, CFL bulbs do contain mercury, which can be bad for the earth if the bulbs aren’t properly disposed of when you’re done using them. This guide tells you all that you need to know about the threat of mercury from CFL bulbs, how to recycle the bulbs properly and what your alternatives are if you don’t want to deal with recycling CFL bulbs.

Understanding the Mercury Issue

Each CFL bulb contains approximately five milligrams of mercury. If the bulb breaks then the mercury is released. This can be dangerous to the individual if the bulb breaks in the home. If it breaks in the landfill then it can be dangerous to the earth because the mercury then makes its way into storm water and the air. The Association of Lighting and Mercury Retailers reports that four tons of mercury leak into the environment each year because of improperly discarded CFL bulbs. Mercury dangers are cumulative so the more bulbs that end up in the landfill the more dangerous it is for the environment.

Does Your Bulb Contain Mercury?

CFL bulbs are the only household light bulb that currently contain mercury. You can always check the light bulb label before you purchase it to find out if it does have mercury, though. That’s because the new light bulb labels will specifically say if mercury is in the bulb.

How to Handle a Broken CFL Bulb at Home

Follow these tips if a CFL bulb breaks in your home:

  • Immediately open all windows to help ventilate the room. Leave the room for at least fifteen minutes after doing this. If your central heating / AC is on then turn it off during this time to make sure that the mercury doesn’t circulate through the rest of the home.
  • Put on gloves before handling the broken glass. Scoop all visible glass and powder into a glass jar with a metal lid. Alternatively you can scoop it into a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use a thick tape, such as duct tape, to pick up the remaining shards and powder that you haven’t been able to scoop up by hand. When finished, place the tape into the glass jar or sealed plastic bag.
  • Use a damp paper towel to go over the surface again to pick up any remaining remnants. Put this into the glass jar or sealed plastic bag.
  • Never use a vacuum for cleaning up a broken CFL bulb. You run the risk of spreading the mercury throughout your home. You can vacuum as normal after the area is cleaned up but you should remove the vacuum bag immediately after doing so just to be on the safe side.
  • Contact your local recycling center (see resources below) to find out if you can drop your broken CFL bulb. If not, check with your local government to find out what the proper disposal method is in your area. In the meantime, keep the glass jar or sealed plastic bag outside in a safe area.
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