How to Dispose of Fluorescent Tubes and Bulbs

Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and fluorescent tubes are utilized in many homes and businesses because they are more cost-effective and save energy than incandescent bulbs. At the same time, you can use these bulbs for over 2 years.

However, fluorescent lights contain mercury, which makes it more difficult to dispose of them than traditional bulbs. It is inappropriate and even illegal to throw them in your household garbage. They must always be properly disposed of or recycled.

Why do Fluorescent Tubes and Bulbs Need Special Disposal?

CFL bulbs have a mercury content of roughly 5 milligrams, which is harmful to the environment. When mercury is spilled, unlike substances that are visible or give a strong stench, it generates fumes that are invisible, utterly odorless, and completely undetectable (unless with specialist equipment). Even modest quantities of mercury exposure can cause major health consequences.

When the fluorescent tubes break, this quantity of mercury can be discharged into the environment, which is problematic because mercury is a known neurotoxin.

It is rapidly absorbed by the human body in vapor form through the mucous membranes and lungs. It is also a contaminant in rivers and lakes that is consumed by fish that are eaten by humans.

Small amounts of mercury exposure may not seem like a big deal, but they can add up, and the results can be terrible.

Mercury penetrates the blood-brain barrier and affects the brain after infiltrating the human body through the digestive or respiratory systems. It causes a number of health problems in unborn children, but cerebral palsy and other neurocognitive problems are the most well-known ones.

It is essential to note that chemicals are not the only hazardous waste. Electronics are also items you should throw in a regular trash can or dumpsite. If you plan to get rid of an old microwave, you might want to see How to Dispose of Microwave.

How Can I Properly Dispose of Fluorescent Tubes and Bulbs?

Because a small quantity of mercury fumes escape when a fluorescent bulb or tube breaks, it’s important to dispose of it with caution. Follow the procedures below to get rid of fluorescent lights.

Prepare the Tubes or Bulbs for Disposal or Recycling

  • When replacing a burned-out tube or bulb, make sure the fuse box that supplies power to that area of the house is turned off. 
  • Make use of a ladder to prevent the bulb or tube from falling to the ground.
  •  The light cover must then be removed, and the tube must be unscrewed.
  • When sending your bulb to a recycling facility or a domestic hazardous waste center, wrap it in bubble wrap or newspaper. 

What should I do if a fluorescent tube or bulb breaks?

If a CFL bulb breaks at home, take immediate action to avoid being exposed to mercury vapor. The EPA suggests that you take the following steps:

  • To keep fumes confined, turn off all cooling and heating systems.
  • Allow for 10 minutes of ventilation by opening a window.
  • Scoop and lift the huge bits using cardboard. Pick up smaller bits and shards and keep them confined in a sealed plastic bag with gloves and adhesive tape.
  • Wipe the area down with a damp paper towel or an old cloth that should also be sealed. If at all feasible, take the shattered bulb fragments to a recycler.

Where Can I Recycle or Dispose of Fluorescent Lights?

Locate a recycling facility within your area. Some states will make recycling mandatory, while others will require hazardous waste disposal. Enter “CFLs” or “fluorescent tubes” and your zip code into Earth 911 to find local collection centers and learn whether such regulation exists in your state or municipality. You will be able to find hazardous garbage and e-waste providers that can help you dispose of burned-out tubes.

These tubes are classified as universal waste and can be disposed of in large or small amounts at a universal waste handler. This is especially helpful for businesses or organizations that need to get rid of a lot of tubes.

Go to your nearest Batteries Plus Bulbs location. These shops may be found all around the U.S. and will properly dispose of your discarded fluorescent bulbs.

You can also contact 800-CLEAN-UP for assistance in locating a suitable disposal facility near you. You’ll be asked to input your zip code before being offered center alternatives.

Use Mail-Back Services Provided by Manufacturers. Customers can get recycling kits from some businesses. You may get a pre-labeled box to ship your unwanted bulbs back to the manufacturer for a charge. Add the bulbs to the packaging as they burn out. Once it’s all filled, seal it and take it to the postal service to be mailed.

Easypak’s website sells light recycling containers in various sizes of fluorescent lights. The cost of a plastic container (with lid), the cost of shipping the bulbs to a recycling facility (with a prepaid FedEx shipping label), and any other expenses are all included in the fee.

Think Green from Home offers a bright recycling kit. It comes with a box and a resealable bag for CFLs. When the bulbs have burned out, just drop them in the bag, and when the container is full, affix the pre-paid return mailing label to it. Send the box to the recycling center, and you’ll get a Certificate of Recycling confirming that the bulbs were properly disposed of.

The Advantages of Recycling CFLs

Mercury is not released into the environment as a result of recycling. When CFLs and other fluorescent lights are dumped into a dumpster, garbage bin, or compactor, or wind up in landfills or incineration, they frequently shatter.

The bulbs’ other components are reused. The metals, glass, and other components that make up fluorescent bulbs may be reused by recycling. Almost every part of a fluorescent light may be recycled.

Basic Regulations for the Disposal of Fluorescent Bulbs and Tubes 

  • Breaking fluorescent bulbs is prohibited in many states.
  • Place used fluorescent bulbs in their original packaging or another safe container.
  • Store them away from water and rain so that waterways are not contaminated if they break.
  • Bring the fluorescent bulbs to a domestic hazardous trash collection or event in the right packaging.
  • Accredited trash handlers or a local recycling center should be contacted by businesses.

Frequent Fluorescent Bulb and Tube Recycling Questions

Are there any fluorescent bulb alternatives?

Yes. LED tubes are now available that are completely compatible with fluorescent tube fixtures. LED tubes are more expensive, but they don’t contain mercury, are adjustable, last on average 50,000 hours, and save 30% more energy.

Is it possible for me to recycle fluorescent tubes through my curbside recycling program?

Fluorescent tubes are classified as household hazardous waste (HHW) and should not be recycled. Many municipalities without a permanent collection site hold HHW activities multiple times a year.

What is the process for recycling fluorescent bulbs?

Fluorescent tubes are delivered to a bulb recycler, which extracts the mercury and dissolves the aluminum tops and glass cases with special machinery. Mercury may be repurposed in new light bulbs and thermostats. Glass is cascaded into materials like ceramic and concrete tile, while aluminum is downcycled as scrap metal.

Why is it that CFLs are easier to recycle than fluorescent tubes?

Retailers (like Home Depot and Lowe’s) are the largest market for CFL recycling. They collect burned-out bulbs for free, but only from customers. Consumers are more likely to buy CFLs at these stores, but fluorescent tubes are commonly utilized in offices. CFLs are also easier to transport for recycling than fluorescent tubes. Please don’t try to recycle fluorescent tubes in these retail collection boxes. The bulbs will probably break and pollute the environment.

We have also put together a few articles to help you dispose of car components properly. You might want to see our guide on How to Dispose of Coolant.

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