Did you know that if every home in America replaced just a single incandescent light bulb with a CFL bulb, we as a country would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year? Save $600 million in yearly energy costs? Prevent the equivalent of 800,000 cars’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions from entering our atmosphere? No? Well now you do! And while that’s all well and good in the long run for our energy and environmental prospects, all those CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulb) will need to be disposed of and recycled when they come to the end of their lifespan. We cannot just throw them in the landfill as we do with so many other products, as they contain a tiny amount of mercury – 4 milligrams worth. That’s a lot less than what was found in older thermometers that people still have around in their closets, but still it is a danger to our environment if we bury them or burn them as trash. So how can we safely dispose of CFL light bulbs? By recycling them, of course.
For most residents of the U.S., usually their local city recycling and/or garbage service has a hazardous waste day a few times a year, where people can dispose of paints, oils, and CFL light bulbs in a safe manner. That’s probably the most convenient way to dispose of CFL bulbs, but if you don’t want to wait until that day comes there are several retailers that will take back those CFLs and recycle them properly at no cost to you:
- Home Depot – customers can bring in any expired, unbroken CFL bulbs, place them in a plastic bag and deposit them both into a collection unit. (Home Depot CFL recycling information)
- IKEA – IKEA recycling in the US and Canada generally covers paper and cardboard, plastics, and glass in addition to hazardous waste collections of compact fluorescent bulbs (also known as CFLs) and batteries. (More info on IKEA CFL recycling)
- Lowe’s – offers a free and easy way for customers to recycle rechargeable batteries, cell phones, CFLs and plastic shopping bags. (More on Lowe’s recycling program)
- Ace Hardware Stores – while each store has varying recycling capabilities, if you have an Ace near you just call them up and ask if they recycle CFL bulbs. (Store locator)
- Menards – Menards also recycles CFL bulbs. (Click here to look up a store near you)
There are probably many more independent or smaller retailers which also recycle CFLs, so if you know of one please be sure to let us know in the comments.
If you run a company or have a whole bunch of expired CFL bulbs which need recycling, it may be worth your time to investigate a few “recycle by mail” companies which provide large boxes or collection bins you fill up and ship to them for disposal. Here are a few to get you started:
- BakPak – A completely self-contained, environmentally friendly, low-cost CFL recycling solution. (Click here for more information)
- EcoLights – Whether you have a box or a truckload, EcoLights offers a convenient and cost-effective way to recycle fluorescent lamps, ballasts and mercury-bearing devices. (More information)
While it is important to recycle those CFL bulbs to make sure they are disposed of properly, some people create undue panic over what happens if you by chance break one of these bulbs in your home. I have written about where some of the fear-mongering over CFLs comes from, along with debunking the idea that CFLs are as dangerous as some say, but just wanted to quickly mention a few things in this post too.
CFLs use about 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer as well — this alone makes for an incredible jump in energy efficiency over the light bulbs we have used forever. Combine that with the fact that these bulbs reduce the power demand from our coal-power plants (the largest source of mercury emissions in the environment), and we can see that by switching to CFLs we can drastically reduce the amount of mercury in our air and save money on energy costs in the process. Yes, there is a minute amount of mercury in CFL bulbs. And yes, mercury can be bad for us. But the EPA’s guidelines for cleaning up a broken CFL talks about plastic bags, paper towels, rubber gloves and shaving cream – nowhere does it say that you need to call a HazMat team to clean up for you. As long as we keep that in mind and properly dispose of the bulbs when we are done with them, we will be safe from mercury while reducing pollutants in the air we breathe. By doing the right thing – replacing incandescents with CFL or LED bulbs and recycling them in a safe way when they burn out – we all do our part to clean up our planet.