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Main> Safety > CFL Light Bulbs
What is a CFL?
CFL bulbs, or compact fluorescent lamps, give the same amount of visible light as their incandescent counterparts, but they require less power and have a longer lifespan. Though they cost a bit more than traditional light bulbs, a single CFL can save more than $30 in electricity costs on an average energy bill, and up to 2,000 times its own weight in greenhouse gases. That’s why Congress is going to start phasing out incandescent bulbs beginning in 2012.

According to, a Web site dedicated to helping consumers reduce, reuse and recycle, most makers of light bulbs have reduced mercury in their products, thanks to a commitment from members of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association. This has been made easier by advances in technology. Based on these two factors, the average mercury content in CFLs dropped at least 20 percent in the past few years. Some manufacturers have gone so far as to have dropped their CFLs’ mercury content to 1.4 to 2.5 milligrams per light bulb.

Like other light bulbs, CFLs are made of glass and can break. Be careful when removing a CFL from its packaging, installing a new one into a lamp or fixture, or replacing one once it burns out. Always hold the base of the bulb, not the glass, when screwing and unscrewing it. Don’t force the bulb into the socket. If a CFL breaks in your home, follow the clean-up recommendations provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Used CFLs should be properly disposed of through recycling.

How to Clean Up a Broken CFL
Because CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, the EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:

1. Before you clean-up: air out

  • Make sure all people and pets leave the room.
  • Don’t allow anyone to walk through the area where the break occurred.
  • Open a window.
  • Exit the room and stay out for a minimum of 15 minutes or more.
  • Shut off any centralized heating or cooling systems in the building.

2. Clean-up steps: hard surfaces

  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up.
  • Carefully scoop up the broken glass and powder using stiff paper such as cardstock, cardboard or paperboard.
  • Place the broken pieces and powder into a glass jar with metal lid or in a plastic bag that can be sealed.
  • Use duct tape to pick up any leftover glass fragments and/or powder.
  • Wipe the area clean with disposable wet wipes. Place the used wipes into the glass jar or plastic bag.

3. Clean-up steps: carpeting or rug

  • Carefully scoop up the broken glass and place the pieces into a glass jar with metal lid or in a plastic bag that can be sealed.
  • Use duct tape to pick up any leftover glass fragments and/or powder.
  • Once you have picked up as much material as possible, a vacuum may be used to collect the remaining debris.
  • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and clean the canister).
  • Place the bag or vacuumed debris into a plastic bag that can be sealed.

4. Clean-up steps: clothing, bedding and other material

  • If the debris from the broken bulb is unable to be cleaned from the fabric, discard the clothing, bedding or other material.
  • Do not wash the material. Mercury from the broken bulb can contaminate the washing machine and the water.
  • You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that did not come into direct contact with the broken bulb. This includes any clothing being worn at the time the bulb broke, as long as direct contact wasn’t made.
  • If shoes come into direct contact with powder from the bulb or broken glass, wipe them off with disposable wet wipes. Place the used wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.

5. Disposal of clean-up materials

  • Immediately place all materials used for clean up in an outdoor trash container. These can be disposed of with your normal trash pickup.
  • Wash your hands after disposing of all clean-up materials and containers.
  • 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.”

6. Future cleaning of carpeting or rug:

  • Air out the room during and after vacuuming.
  • The next few times you vacuum, shut off any centralized heating or cooling systems and open a window before begining.
  • Keep the air system off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming.

Recycling and disposal options
Many state and local agencies have developed collection/exchange programs for mercury-containing devices, such as thermometers, manometers, and thermostats, and recycling programs for fluorescent light bulbs. Some counties and cities also have household hazardous waste collection programs. For information about these programs, contact your local officials to find out when and where a collection will be held in your area. Earth911 also provides information about local collection programs.

Households are generally exempt from Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations that govern the transportation, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes that contain mercury, but small and large businesses and industries are not exempt. Their mercury wastes are governed under EPA’s Land Disposal Restrictions (LDR) Program. EPA has designated some widely generated hazardous wastes, including certain spent batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment and light bulbs, as “universal wastes.” The regulations that govern universal wastes include special management provisions intended to facilitate the recycling of such materials. Find more information about how households and businesses can manage, recycle and dispose of fluorescents and other mercury-containing bulbs by visiting the EPA’s Web site.

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