Fluorescent lights may save you money on your electric bill, but once they burn out, you can’t toss them in the trash because the mercury contained in them is toxic, making burned-out fluorescent lights hazardous waste!
Fluorescent lights come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the most popular being tube-shaped and the compact “curly” style. The tube-shape lights have been in use for many years, mostly in garages and commercial buildings. Compact fluorescent lights (CFL’s) became a more recently popular product to replace the use of common incandescent lights. Many utility companies offered deep discounts to buy CFL’s because, according to Energy Star, they use about 70-90% less energy than traditional incandescent lights and last 10 to 25 times longer. But now the problems associated with disposal of these bulbs is causing the industry to develop new options.
New bulbs containing Light Emitting Diodes, or LED’s, are becoming more affordable and popular. These lights save even more electricity than fluorescent lights, and there are even replacement tubes now available! LED’s are even better because they don’t have the toxic components. So, what’s the best way to get rid of old fluorescent lights?
Well, first of all, if you break a fluorescent light, DON’T VACUUM the area. Vacuuming causes the mercury vapor to become airborne and travel all around instead of staying in one place. Once broken, the EPA says to leave the area for 5-10 minutes to air out the room. Open a window if there is one nearby and shut off any central forced heating or air conditioning. Then collect the materials needed to clean up the bulb – stiff paper or cardboard, sticky tape, damp paper towels or wet wipes and a sealable bag. Pick up large pieces of glass using the cardboard or stiff paper. Use the sticky tape to pick up the small glass pieces and powder. Place all these materials into the sealable bag. Then you can make an appointment with San Mateo County’s Household Hazardous Waste Program to dispose of the materials for free.
The best option is to make sure the lights don’t break, and take them for proper disposal. There are more convenient options for disposal if the bulbs are not broken:
1. If you only have the compact bulbs, several chain hardware stores will take them back such as Home Depot and OSH.
2. Other local hardware stores will take back all shapes of fluorescent lights, including tubes (1, 4, and 8 foot long), U-shaped, circular, and others. These can be taken to the following list of locations found HERE.
3. If you have fluorescent lights and other household hazardous waste at home, you can always make an appointment with San Mateo County’s Household Hazardous Waste program to drop off everything at the same time. There is no charge for residents, but limits do apply.
If you are a business, we have options too! For business disposal of large quantities of fluorescent bulbs and tubes at a nominal fee, use our Very Small Quantity Generator (VSQG) program.