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Handle CFLs carefully to realize savings

CFLs save money and energy, but must be disposed of carefully
CFLs save money and energy, but must be disposed of carefully
Photo by vancanjay/Stock Xchng

Replacing traditional incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs saves money and energy in your home. However, as one reader pointed out, CFLs can harm to the environment if they are not disposed of properly.

Kansas City Power & Light points out, “Each 13-watt CFL, over the expected 10,000 hour life of the bulbs, will save 470 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity as compared to a 60-watt incandescent bulb. This translates to a reduction of over 730 pounds of carbon dioxide. It also means a reduction of 1.6 pounds of nitrogen oxides and 4.3 pounds of sulfur dioxide, and makes significant reductions in other impacts of coal-produced power such as mercury pollution and destruction of forest and stream habitats.”

The benefits are clear. However, additional responsibilities apply to the users of CFLs. Each CFL contains about five milligrams of mercury, which is sealed inside the glass. The mercury is necessary to produce CFLs and cannot be eliminated from the design. Homeowners should be cautious with broken CFLs, and careful disposing of them at the end of their useful lives.

If a CFL breaks, be careful around the glass. If the glass is cleaned up correctly, there is no immediate health risk to you or your family. Sweep up all the glass, including fine fragments. Do not vacuum. Place the glass shards in a plastic bag. Use a damp cloth to clean up any remaining fine glass fragments. Once all the glass is cleaned up and disposed of, open the windows to ventilate the room.

Extra care should be taken when CFLs are discarded. CFLs are treated as other hazardous materials, including paint and batteries. Do not throw them away with other trash.  Many communities provide recycling facilities for hazardous materials, including those listed below.

CFLs can be responsible for significant energy savings in homes, as long as homeowners care for them properly. For more information on how to use CFLs to economize in your household, see Save money and energy with compact fluorescent light bulbs.


  • Jillan 5 years ago

    The best way to sweep up a CFL bulb, if broken, is with the end of a cardboard box, or any other object that can be disposed of with the bulb. If you use a broom to sweep up the broken glass, small amounts of the mercury can stay with the bristles. Excellent article, I will tell my friends about your column!

  • KC Green Parenting Examiner 5 years ago

    Excellent advice. While the level of mercury in a CFL is small, any amount of mercury can be harmful. Thank you for making that great safety tip to readers!

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