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Proper disposal of CFLs

Thursday, February 22, 2007

NPR reports on the hidden hazards of compact fluorescent light bulbs. CFLs contain trace amounts of mercury that can be released when the bulbs break. The concern is not for consumers but rather those who handle our solid waste. As recycling programs for CFLs are not yet in place in many cities, some people are tempted to toss them into their municipal trash, where invariably they will break and leave residues on trash cans, dumpsters, and trash trucks. Bad idea.

Do not put your CFLs out for regular trash pick-up. Instead, store them in a shoebox in your garage or closet and when the box gets full take them to a recycling facility or hazardous waste drop-off to dispose of them all at once.

I’m going to keep my expired CFLs right next to the box of 25 incandescents I replaced this fall. My guess is disposal options for CFLs will be better by the time that shoebox gets full. With the longer life of the bulbs and their emergence as mainstream products only recently, there shouldn’t be too man burnt out CFLs yet.

[Wendy Reed, who manages EPA's Energy Star program] says that even though fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, using them contributes less mercury to the environment than using regular incandescent bulbs. That's because they use less electricity — and coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of mercury emissions in the air.
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