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A tisket, a tasket, a CFL filled basket

January 20, 2010

Display at Broadway Windows (NYU) by Jennifer Gustavson

The other day a CFL (compact fluorescent lightbulb) burned out at my house. I’m not quite sure why – I think it has to do with it being in a recessed can, which needs a covered reflector, but that will be a post for another day. I replaced it and, not sure what I should do with the burned out bulb, sort of regretfully put it in the trash. Then I rethought the decision and put it in a bag to bring to work with me.

Our office started moving to CFLs some time ago and I thought that while CFLs are supposed to last much longer than traditional incandescent bulbs – up to ten times longer, leading (note to decision-makers in your office) to a savings of up of between 50-80 percent, which is significant when taking into account that lighting makes up about 29 percent of the energy use in a typical office – that the question of how to dispose of CFLs must have come up. Turns out it hadn’t. I was offered a basket for collecting bulbs. This was an encouraging start, but I decided to do a bit more research to see how recycling CFLs in office settings is normally handled.

CFLs contain a small amount of mercury – about 4 mg in each bulb – that is not released while the bulb is intact or in use. Because of the mercury, which qualifies as hazardous waste, they must be disposed of properly when they burn out. Private citizens can go to to find a nearby location where CFLs can be recycled, and, presumably, a small business could walk bulbs over to a Home Depot or IKEA, which have take-back programs. But there are other programs in place for businesses as well.

The EPA has a page dedicated to recycling mercury-containing bulbs that includes a guide for businesses. They recommend sussing out state-specific requirements for managing hazardous waste. New York has a very thorough site for this called NYCWasteLe$$, which, among much other information, lists collection services and pre-paid mail-back services. They also note that the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, which represents virtually all manufacturers of mercury-containing fluorescent lamps selling in the United States, sponsors a Web site,, with information on benefits, regulations, and contacts for recycling spent fluorescent lamps. This very thorough directory that includes some of the companies listed on the NYCWasteLe$$ site, lists companies in the US and Canada that collect and recycle CFLs.

One site I found, EasyPak, sells lined, secure 1- or 5-gallon buckets specifically designed for returning CFLs to a recycling center. Shipping to the recycling center, recycling charges, and a certificate of recycling are included in the price. I think this would be a good thing to have in an easily-located place in an office, with a sign posted about proper handling of spent bulbs, and perhaps a little educational information about why CFLs are good for the office and good for the environment.

-by Briana

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