One of the simplest activities that anyone can undertake to reduce their energy use (and their electricity bills!) is to switch out their traditional light bulbs with the newer, Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs. They save money, last longer, and are better for the environment.
Our regular readers may remember that we covered all this in our Ultimate Guide to Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs.
But they have one downside — they contain small amounts of Mercury.
The Mercury is used inside the bulbs to increase their efficiency. Only a small amount is used, but you should still be careful. (A CFL bulb contains only 1/100th of the mercury in old-style mercury thermometers.)
The main issues with Mercury are:
- If they break, the mercury can escape into your home, and
- They should not be disposed of into your normal trash.
If a CFL bulb breaks in your home, the amount of mercury released isn’t much — but you should use caution if this happens.
According to the U.S. EPA, here are directions to clean up a CFL bulb that has broken. [PDF] Here are their directions:
How should I clean up a broken fluorescent bulb?
EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:
1. Open a window and leave the room (restrict access) for at least 15 minutes.
2. Remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner. Wear disposable rubber gloves, if available (do not use your bare hands). Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or disposable wet wipe. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.
3. Place all cleanup materials in a plastic bag and seal it. If your state permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the CFL in two plastic bags and put into the outside trash (if no other disposal or recycling options are available). Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.
4. The first time you vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag once done cleaning the area (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag and/or vacuum debris, as well as the cleaning materials, in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.
Newer CFL bulbs are now being made that use about half of the mercury that older ones used.