Cleanup and Disposal of Fluorescent Lights

Extra Care Needed for Mercury-Containing Bulbs
recycle CFLs

Accidents happen. At one time or another, we’ve all attempted to change a light bulb only to have it slip through our fingers and end up in pieces on the floor. With round, incandescent bulbs, a broom and a dust pan could solve that problem. However, today compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are lighting more homes than ever. Because fluorescent lights contain a small amount of mercury, extra care should be taken to safely dispose and clean up broken or used bulbs.

Yes, mercury can be a potentially dangerous toxin at a high level of exposure. However, the average mercury content in a CFL is just 4 milligrams – roughly enough to cover the tip of a ball-point pen. By comparison, a watch battery contains 25 milligrams of mercury while an old thermometer contains up to 500 milligrams – the equivalent of more than 125 CFLs!

Safe Cleanup of Broken Fluorescent Products

If a CFL or fluorescent tube should break or shatter, appropriate precautions should be taken to reduce mercury exposure. First, open a window to ventilate the room and then follow specific EPA directions for the safe cleanup and disposal of the bulb and its contents.

Recycling and Disposal Options for Fluorescent Products

No mercury is released when CFL bulbs or fluorescent tubes are intact (not broken) or in use. However, when fluorescent lamps are no longer usable, they should be disposed of properly or recycled if possible. Several options are available:

  • The City of San Antonio's Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Drop-off Center, located at 7030 Culebra Road, offers San Antonio residents the opportunity to safely dispose of CFLs, fluorescent lights (including ballasts) and incandescent bulbs. Disposal is free for city residents who are asked to bring a copy of a recent CPS Energy bill as proof of residency (the Environmental Fee included on a CPS Energy bill indicates that you are a San Antonio solid waste ratepayer). The HHW Center is open Fridays from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Call 311 or see the City's website for other household hazardous waste disposal options available through the center.

Mercury is an essential part of CFLs because it allows the bulb to be a more efficient light source. In recent years, most light manufacturers have reduced the amount of mercury in their fluorescent lighting products. Also, since CFLs use less electricity than incandescent lights, they actually reduce the amount of mercury entering the environment.

If you're looking for other disposal or recycling options, consult the EPA's Web site.