By now you've likely replaced your incandescent light bulbs with long lasting compact fluorescents (CFLs). If you were an early adapter, you may have some bulbs that are reaching the end of their useful life. Knowing how to dispose of CFLs is as important as swapping them in for your old bulbs. Here's why: CFLs contain a small amount of mercury – about the same amount that would fit on the tip of a ballpoint pen--which is what makes it an efficient light source. Mercury is an extremely hazardous waste, according to earth911.com and can cause brain and kidney damage in human and animals when it comes in direct contact.
No mercury is released when CFLs are intact, but if they're chucked in the trash and broken or crushed at the dump instead of recycled they can cause problems. Burnt out CFLs need to be disposed of at recycling or household hazardous waste centers that accept them. Check Earth911's online guide to CFL recycling centers to find one near you.
If you break a CFL by accident, air out the room for at least 15 minutes. Get all people and pets out and turn off heating and cooling systems; scoop up broken glass and powder from inside the light with cardboard or other stiff paper and put sweepings into a a glass jar with a metal lid or in a sealable plastic bag. Use duct tape to pick up any leftovers, and wipe the area with disposable wet wipes (put them in the jar or bag, too)--don't use a broom or dustpan.
The EPA advises, “Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area. Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.”
If the bulb broke on a carpet, clothing or other fabric, dispose of any fabric that came into direct contact with the broken glass or bulb contents. Do not wash any fabrics that might have mercury on it in the washing machine-it could contaminate your entire machine. Only vacuum a surface where a bulb has broken after you've cleaned it following the steps above, and then dispose of the bag immediately in an outside trash barrel.
For more information, visit earth911.com or the EPA website.
Earth 911 warns: Never send a fluorescent light bulb or any other mercury-containing product to an incinerator.