How to Recycle CFLs

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Overview

When you are trying to convert your lifestyle into something that is good for the environment, it involves many changes that can feel overwhelming. So, if you are looking for a way to go green, you can start by changing your lightbulbs. 

Specifically, if you are using incandescent light bulbs, replace them with compact fluorescent light bulbs or CFLs. However, it is vital that you recycle CFL bulbs because they contain mercury, which can cause harmful effects towards another person or the environment.

CFL Recycling Preparation

When recycling CFLs, it is important to know the hows. That is why we provide you with a step-by-step process on how you can recycle your CFLs properly. Follow along the steps here:

  1. When a CFL’s power is diminished, you should remove it from its socket or ceiling receptacle. But, it is vital that you remember to turn off that switch prior to removing the CFL. This saves you the pain of being electrocuted, Better yet, if you can turn off all power within the area where your CFL is located, it is a much safer option.
  2. After you remove the CFL from its socket, the next step is to store them in a plastic bag with a zipper. This ensures that if the light bulb were to break, the mercury inside it would not leak out. On top of that, always make sure that you put each CFL in separate plastic bags. This decreases the chances of it breaking while in the middle of being transported.
  3. Now that you have carefully packaged your CFLs, the next step is to take them to the right facility, which is an Antifreeze, Batteries, Oil, Paint or ABOP facility. You may also drop them off at your local Lower’s, IKEA, Batteries + Bulbs, and Home Depot. Additionally, see if there are any household hazardous waste event in your area.

Those are the necessary steps that you need to follow in order to ensure a healthy environment. However, in a case where a CFL breaks before step two, you need to follow these steps to avoid any intoxication. 
 
But first, here are a few things that you would need: Cardboard or any stiff paper, disposable wet wipes, wet or damp paper towels, and an airtight container (resealable plastic bags, jars, etc.). Once you have gathered all the necessary materials, you can follow these steps to clean and dispose a broken CFL:

  1. Make sure to let every other person or pet out of the room where the broken bulb is.
  2. Turn off any AC or heating systems.
  3. Open your window/s, so that air can freely pass through the entire room. Air out the room for about 5 to 10 minutes.
  4. Use cardboard or any stiff paper to sweep all the shards of glass. Plus, you may also use a tape to collect smaller debris and/or powder.
  5. Place all the broken pieces gathered from the cardboard or tape into the resealable plastic bag or jar.
  6. Put the plastic bag or jar into another sealable container.
  7. After you have done all of the above, dispose of the broken CFL’s debris and used cleaning materials into its proper trash bin outside of your house.
  8. When possible, transfer all materials to the proper facility (see recycling steps above).
  9. It is also best to leave your windows open for several hours before closing them. However, this would depend on the weather conditions.

Things to Avoid

Before you go and clean up a broken CFL, here are a few things that you should avoid doing:

Why Recycle CFLs?

Now that we have answered the hows, we are going to discuss the whys. In this section you will find out why it is utterly necessary for you or your business to recycle CFLs.

Where to Recycle CFLs?

When finished with the storing and/or cleaning of the unbroken/broken CFLs, it is now time to transport them to the proper facilities or agencies. These would include: waste collection agencies, local retail stores, and mail-back services.

Waste Collection Agencies

These agencies are found in most states in the US. If you want to find a nearby agency, you go to search.earth911.com. That web page was specifically designed to help people locate recycling solutions wherever they are. On top of that, it can also help you find curbside collection schedules and drop-off locations.

Oftentimes, these waste collection agencies do not charge for collecting. However, at times, they may charge a small fee. We would recommend that you come prepared in any case. Also, it is important to note that, sometimes, agencies will only do house to house hazardous once or twice a year. If that is the case, you would need to hold on to your light bulbs until then. But, there are other agencies that do collections all-year round.

There are also a couple of things that are worth mentioning. First, waste collection agencies usually would only collect hazardous wastes from residents, but there are those that can pick up such wastes from small businesses. Second and last, they may also collect other potentially hazardous wastes, including batteries, cleaning supplies, paints, and pesticides.

Local Retail Stores

As stated before, there are some local hardware and retail stores that will accept recyclable CFLs. You may also use the search.earth911.com website to locate a local retail store. Nonetheless, below is where you will find a list of stores that may accept CFLs.

There is one thing that is quite crucial to take note of before heading to the stores mentioned above. It is important that you contact the store personally and ask them if they do accept recyclable materials. That is because there are some stores that only recycle specific kinds of bulbs.

Mail-Back Services

Another way to transport your used CFLs is through the US mail service. There are actual light bulb companies that sell pre-labeled recycling kits. This allows you to mail your light bulbs to respective recycling facilities. 

Basically, what you are going to do is put all depleted light bulbs in the recycling kit. The next step is sealing it and, finally, delivering it to your post office. The cost of the recycling kit already includes the shipping fee when it sent to the recycling center.

CFL Recycling Process

In this section we will discuss a brief yet clear picture of what happens to your CFL bulbs after you send them to a recycling center. On top of that, we will also let you know what happens to every single material that makes up the light bulb.

Firstly, all CFLs are brought to a recycling facility, or a bulb recycler. Next, what they do is use special machines that were specifically designed to extract the Mercury contents of the bulb. After extracting all of the Mercury, they can now safely break down the aluminum casing, as well as the glass body.

Now let us discuss what happens to all materials. In this part, we will discuss briefly how each part is being recycled for another use. With the Mercury extracted, they are used to either power another CFL or added to a thermometer. For the aluminum casing, it is recycled to be used as scrap metal. Finally, the glass case is downcycled to another material, such as a ceramic tile or concrete.

Ultimately, when processed the right way, all components of a CFL can be recycled. That is why most bulb recyclers or recycling plants do so in a controlled environment. This ensures the safety of every personnel and also the environment. Yes, 4mg of Mercury from a CFL is small when compared to that of a thermometer, which can range from 500mg to 3,000mg, depending on its size.

Frequent CFL Recycling Questions

As stated earlier, all CFLs are brought to a recycling center or a bulb recycler. The mode of how it goes there, however, depends on your preference. In this case, there are three options: you can contact a local waste collection agency, go to a nearby retail store (IKEA, Home Depot, TrueValue, etc), or you can use the US mail service.

When it all comes down to it, LEDs are quite better for the environment. That is because they last longer (about three times as long) than CFLs. On top of that, they also only use two-thirds of the energy that it takes to power a CFL bulb. Finally, they also do not contain the element, Mercury, so it is easier for you to dispose of.

Having said that, LEDs are also slightly more expensive than CFLs. An LED costs around $5 to $8 while a CFL costs only $3. Aside from it being more expensive, you will also have a much more difficult time trying to find a recycling market for LED light bulbs.
Mercury just so happens to be a superb conductor for electricity. And, it is the reason why CFLs are much more energy efficient. When it comes to potential harmful effects when humans are exposed to it, one should know that the amount of Mercury in a CFL is not close to the amount of it being toxic to people. 

Yes, CFLs today commonly have about 4mg of Mercury. However, most companies and manufacturers also try to decrease the amount of Mercury. That is why other CFLs only have around 1.4mg to 2.5mg per bulb. That said, proper care should still be topmost priority.

That is because retailers control more than half of the CFL recycling market. It is also true even for mail-back services. This is because of the major size difference between the two. CFLs are much smaller, which makes them easier to store, package, and ship.

Conclusion

Going green is always a smart decision. Not only will you be helping yourself, but you will also be helping the environment. And you can start by ensuring that you know how to recycle CFL bulbs. However, other than doing your own research, we can’t stress out the importance of working with your local, county or state agencies in regards to recycling CFL bulbs as your area may have special restrictions or regulations. 

Once you’re well-acquainted with the process, it will be easy to incorporate into your day-to-day routine. 

You can also trust a reliable hazardous waste management service provider like ACT to take care of giving you the right info about recycling CFLs. Contact our team to know more.

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