Health and Community Services
Environmental Health Division
Household Hazardous Waste
Fluorescent Lights and Mercury
Both fluorescent lights (CFLs) and fluorescent tubes can be recycled at the HHW Center.
The following fluorescent lights are accepted:
- CFLs of any size or shape (see picture at right for examples)
- Fluorescent tubes: from 2 footers to 8 footers
- Fluorescent tubes: circular, u-shaped (see picture below)
Be careful not to break the tubes or bulbs during transportation to the HHW Center.
Mercury in Fluorescent Lights
CFLs contain elemental (metallic) mercury, but it is a very small amount - an average of 5 milligrams - sealed within the glass tubing. This is equal to the amount that would cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury. It would take 100 CFLs to equal that amount. More information can be found here: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/
CFLs: Good for the Environment and the Pocketbook
We are often asked how CFLs can be so good for the environment when they contain mercury. The answer is that coal-burning power plants are a large source of mercury emissions to the air in the United States, accounting for over 50 percent of all domestic human-caused mercury emissions (Source: 2005 National Emissions Inventory). Mercury is naturally occurring in coal. When coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment. The more energy we consume, the more mercury is emitted from these coal-burning power plants. So using CFLs means using less electricity, less coal which results in lower mercury emissions.
Switching from traditional light bulbs to CFLs is an effective, accessible change every American can make right now to reduce energy use at home, resulting in lower electric bills. Lighting accounts for close to 20 percent of the average home's electric bill. High quality CFLs (ENERGY STAR approved) use up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent light bulbs. CFLs also last up to 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs.
Energy Star - Bulbs That Last Longer
To get the most life out of your bulbs, make sure they are ENERGY STAR approved and that they are placed in areas of your home where lights are lit for many hours - typically the kitchen, living room, recreation room and outdoors. If using with a dimmer switch, select a bulb that is specifically designed for this purpose. Using a regular CFL with a dimmer may shorten bulb life. Frequent switching on and off will also shorten the bulb's life so they are typically not good candidates for areas such as closets.
Due to much better phosphor mixing (the white coating inside the glass tubes) CFLs now have excellent color rendering. They also come in a range of kelvin temperatures (K) from warm yellow (2700K) to bright daylight (5000K) and several in between.
A 3000 K bulb is a good choice for a kitchen, bathroom or workroom, but many people prefer warmer tones for their living and dining rooms. You can now find CF bulbs in warm colors similar to incandescent bulbs - look for a color temperature of 2700K on the package.
But we are still hearing concerns about bluish, pinkish or greenish light hues and shorter than expected life span. Make sure you buy CF bulbs with the Energy Star label for best quality.
Best Light Bulbs for Each Room
Energy Star's web site on CFLs
Energy Star's web site FAQs for CFLS & Mercury
EPA's Guideline for cleaning up a broken CFL or tube