Whole Living Daily

Ask Mindy: Can I Throw Away a CFL?

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Got a green dilemma? Ask me! I'll be answering a new question each week.

What’s in compact fluorescent bulbs and how should I dispose of them? - Dianna Carey

CFLs should be handled with care because they do contain very small amounts of mercury, a neurotoxic  heavy metal that gets into our air and water and rises in the food chain, contaminating the fish we eat. But not to worry: No mercury is released from a CFL in use, only if it’s broken. Therefore, the bulbs should be carefully handled, recycled, and never tossed in the trash.

CFLs, classified as household hazardous waste by muncipalities, are not included in curbside recycling programs. But several hardware and lighting retailers, including IKEA and Home Depot accept used CFLs for safe recycling. You can also drop them off at your local government’s hazardous waste recycling center. Search under “CFLs,” entering your zip code, at Earth911.com.

If a CFL breaks, don't panic, but do leave the room and let it air out for at least 10 minutes. Wearing gloves and covering your nose and mouth, pick up the broken glass and put it in an air-tight container. Wipe up the mercury drops thoroughly with a damp rag and the shards with sticky tape. Wrap it all up in newspaper and seal in a plastic bag, and take to your nearest municipal hazardous waste site.

If all of this seems like a lot of hassle, consider switching from CFLs to LEDs. They are more expensive, but they last 25 times longer than a incandescents and save an average $200 over their lifetimes. LEDs also burn without releasing heat, which is what makes them so efficient.

To find Energy Star qualified CFLs and LEDs, check the EPA’s lightbulb site.

Mindy Pennybacker regularly answers readers' green-living questions. She is also editor of GreenerPenny.com and author of Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices.

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Comments (3)

  • Not true about no heat. What do you think they have massive heat sinks on them? They are efficient because they convert a larger portion of electrical energy to light. A little fact checking would go a long way.

  • Thanks for your comment! According to the EPA Energy Star website, LEDs don't heat up; they stay at room temp. And yes,that's because they're more efficient.

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