Fluorescent Bulbs: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Sep 27 2016

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Fluorescent bulbs exist in a variety of shapes and sizes.

The Good: Fluorescent bulbs and CFLs save energy. They are 75% more efficient than a regular incandescent bulb and they last longer. Saving energy saves money and conserves resources (ie fossil fuels) and reduces pollution. Sounds good!

dont-trash-fluorescent-bulbsThe Bad: Fluorescent tubes & CFL bulbs contain a small amount of mercury gas (about 4 mg) – which is toxic to our nervous system, lungs and kidneys. So long as bulbs stay intact, the mercury gas is no threat. This means bulbs  should be handled properly to avoid breakage.  There are some basic safety steps to follow if one is broken. Burnt-out bulbs should not be disposed of in the trash. Most bulbs break when thrown out, whether in the bin at home, in the truck, or at the landfill. When the bulbs break, the mercury gas is released.

The Ugly: Mercury contamination is widespread in our environment. This is in part due to natural occurrences but also legacy mining and energy production.  Mercury can bioaccumulate in organisms such as fish. Most of us are aware that we should not eat too much tuna or swordfish, particularly for pregnant women and children, for fear of mercury poisoning.

The Good (again): We couldn’t leave you hanging on that negative note! We may not be able to do much about naturally occurring mercury but there is light at the end of the tunnel for our bulbs. Overall, using fluorescent bulbs reduces mercury in the environment through the energy savings. Recycling fluorescent bulbs contains the mercury gas and (bonus) most of the components of the bulbs are recycled. Below are some local programs to recycle your bulbs, most of which are free. Be sure to place each CFL  bulb in a ziploc bag so they do not break in transit.

Local Options for Recycling Fluorescent Bulbs:


A CFL recycling station at Home Depot.

Naperville Household Hazardous Waste Facility – Tubes and CFLs

Home Depot – CFLs only

Lowes – CFLs only

Menards – CFL only, take to customer service desk

Batteries Plus Bulbs (all types, fees apply, $0.44/CFL, $0.12/ft tubes)

Some towns also have recycling programs, so call your municipality to see if it’s offered.

Moving On

If you want to avoid mercury vapor all together, you can switch over to LED bulbs, which are even more efficient (90-95% less energy compared to incandescent bulbs) and contain no mercury. In fact, you may find  CFL bulbs may be fully replaced by LEDs in the not-so-distant future.

Are You Ready To Do Your Part?

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