Proper Disposal of Old Lighting Bulbs and Broken Lamps
We’ve all been there: the light goes out, we unscrew the bulb from the light fixture (after we’ve accidentally burned our fingers because we forgot to let it cool) and then we toss it into the trash without thinking twice. Unfortunately, many of the light bulbs we use today, particularly the compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, fluorescent and high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, contain small amounts of hazardous mercury that get released into the environment when we throw them into the garbage (which they subsequently break open from being crushed under the weight of other garbage). Lamp ballasts also contain PCB. So, what do you do with broken CFL light bulbs and other spent bulbs and parts when your light fixtures go dark or you just want to buy new ones?
How Much Mercury?
It is worth noting that the actual mercury content of the CFL bulb is relatively low: less than 4 milligrams, which is just enough to cover the tip of a pen. Despite this, as more people turn to CFL bulbs and eventually throw them out when they get spent, this mercury builds up. Also, all fluorescent and High-intensity discharge (HID) lamps contain small amounts of mercury. This amount may not affect your health but still needs to be disposed of correctly so the mercury will not accumulate. Just to be on the safe side it is better to consider all lamping waste to be hazardous.
What Should I Do With Used CFL Bulbs and Other Light Bulbs?
Recycle mercury contaminated lamps and bulbs to prevent them from getting to a general landfill. Currently, there are a few retail locations at which you can drop off your used CFL light bulbs. This includes Home Depot, which started a CFL recycling program for used CFL bulbs. Home Depot will take any brand of CFL, from any type of indoor or outdoor lighting fixtures, so you can be confident in recycling your spent bulbs at this particular location. Other stores that accept used CFL bulbs for recycling include Orchard Supply Hardware stores in California, Ace Hardware, TrueValue, Menards and Aubuchon Hardware as well as IKEA furniture stores.
When these lamps are recycled, they are smashed and the mercury is taken out; then the other parts of the lamp are reused.
For other types of used or broken light bulbs such as incandescent or halogen, check with your local government for more information on who will take and recycle your specific type. You can also visit earth911.com to find other collection programs in your area for lamps and bulbs.
What if My Light Bulb is Broken?
If your light bulbs broke while still in the lamps or other light fixtures, you’ll need to take precautions when cleaning them up. This is especially true of CFL bulbs, which as noted earlier, contain small amounts of mercury. Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up a broken CFL bulb, but rather use tape to pick up the pieces and dust. Dispose of the filled tape in a sealed plastic or glass container, then use a damp, disposable cloth to blot, not rub, the area to remove any remaining mercury.
To remove the base of the broken bulb from the light fixture socket, you can use a potato! Slice the potato in half and insert the sliced half directly onto the broken portion. Then, twist gently to remove. You should remove the broken portion from the socket and then re-clean the surrounding area to ensure no further contamination has occurred. This method can also be used for other types of light bulbs, including traditional incandescent bulbs, halogen and more.
What about PCB in ballasts?
If your old ballasts do not have a label stating “NO PCBs” then it does not contain PCB. Prior to 1979 all ballasts made in the U.S. contained PCBs. Federal law requires the proper disposal of any PCB-contaminated materials a your nearby EPA-approved facility.
Visit the EPA website to find an EPA facility near you or to learn about the laws and regulations that govern PCB’s.
After cleaning up broken fragments, find stylish new lighting fixtures that will brighten up any room in your home!