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Home > By DEPARTMENTS > Green Operations > Standard Operating Procedures for Green and Sustainable Business Operations > Pollution Prevention > Pollution Prevention - P2

Recycle Those CFL Fluorescent Bulbs!

Recycling and properly disposing of CFL bulbs is essential. Mercury is a neurotoxin that impacts infants and children. Here's how...

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electricity conservation According to the U.S. EPA, if every American replaced just one light bulb with a fluorescent bulb, it would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year, more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equal to more than 800,000 cars.

And sales are booming, as consumers use the spiral bulbs to make homes and living more convenient. These lights represented 20 percent of the market in 2007, up from 11 percent in 2006, according to the EPA.

However, a recent study revealed that only 20 percent of fluorescent bulbs and lamps are properly recycled.

That’s 8 out of 10 lamps that end up in dumpsters and landfills where the mercury can be released into the environment. We can do better!

Mercury is essential to the function of fluorescent bulbs, however mercury is a potent neurotoxin and it is especially dangerous for fetuses and children.

According to the EPA, in the U.S. today about 1/6th of chidren are born having been eposed to mercury levels so high they are at risk for memory loss and learning disabilities.

Each CFL contains about five milligrams of mercury, about equal to the amount of ink on the tip of a ballpoint pen. Other sources of mercury are fish, batteries, electrical switches and relays, barometers, and thermometers, much of which ends up in municipal landfills. Leachings out of landfills into water supplies or in the air if incinerated add to the dangers to our children.

WalMart now has kiosks for spent CFL bulbs in its CALIFORNIA stores. The U.S. Postal Service is considering a recovery program with recycling containers at their stations.

Vermont has one of the highest levels of CFL sales per household and in 1998, it passed a law requiring the recycling of CFL bulbs. This "reverse distribution" process costs about 35 cents per bulb, says the Mercury Education and Reduction Coordinator for Vermont's program.

SOLUTION: If you break a compact CFL bulb in your office or home, you can open windows to dissipate mercury vapor. Then while wearing gloves, use sticky tape to pick up the small pieces and powdery residue from the bulb's interior. Place the tape and large pieces of the bulb n a plastic bag. After vacuuming the area, place the vacuum bag inside doubly sealed plastic bags before discarding.

Check EPA's Energy Star website for more information.

To find a CFL recycling program in your area, visit

Psssst: There's another solution to low-cost lighting: LED lights!

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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