Is there mercury in CFLs?
Yes. There is a small amount of metallic mercury, about the size of a grain of sand, in each CFL bulb. The mercury is needed to make the CFL glow and give off light. The mercury is inside the twisted glass tube part of the bulb.
Will mercury harm my family?
No. The CFL bulb will not give off any mercury unless it breaks. The amount of mercury is too small (4 milligrams) to cause harm. Breathing mercury vapors for a long time can be harmful especially to young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies. Most of the mercury in a CFL, if it is broken, becomes bound to the inside of the light bulb as it is used, and when disposed of properly, will not linger in your household.
Do CFLs release more mercury into the atmosphere?
According to the EPA, the U.S. releases about 104 metric tons of mercury into the air each year. The majority of these mercury emissions do not come from mercury in CFL bulbs but from the emissions of coal-fired electrical power. Mercury released into the air is the main way that mercury gets into water and bio-accumulates in fish. Because a CFL uses 75% less energy than an incandescent and lasts at least 6 times longer, you are essentially releasing 10 mg of mercury into the atmosphere when using an incandescent bulb.
What happens if a CFL breaks?
If a CFL breaks there are two dangers. The broken glass can cause a cut and possibly breathing mercury vapors. If a CFL bulb breaks in your house, remove people from the area for a few minutes until any mercury vapor has cleared away. Then, using a damp rag or paper towels, wipe up any broken glass and carefully throw the glass and rag into your garbage, being careful not to cut yourself on the glass. For more information, visit the EPA Website.
- Take care to prevent injury from broken glass.
- Ventilate the room by opening the windows for at least 15 minutes before clean up.
- Do not use a vacuum cleaner, but clean up using rubber gloves and aim to avoid creating and inhaling airborne dust as much as possible.
- On hard surfaces sweep up all particles and glass fragments with stiff cardboard and place everything, including the cardboard, in a plastic bag. Wipe the area with a damp cloth and then add that to the bag. Household cleaning products should be avoided during clean up despite the very small amount of mercury involved. See the next section for cleaning carpeted surfaces.
- Use sticky tape to pick up small, residual CFL pieces or powder from soft furnishings and then add that to the bag.
- The plastic bag should be reasonably sturdy and needs to be sealed, but it does not need to be airtight. The sealed plastic bag should be double-bagged to minimize cuts from broken glass.
How long do CFLs last?
The CFLs being distributed by Blue Planet Foundation are rated to last 10,000 hours of use. That could be equal to about 10 years of life for the average light bulb. The number of times a light is turned on and the number of hours it is in service everyday will affect how many years the bulb lasts.
Where do CFLs go when they burn out? Is the mercury harmful in our landfills?
Burned-out CFLs are either recycled through Home Depot or put in the garbage can. Most of the mercury from the CFLs will stick to the glass of bulb. Hawaii’s landfills are lined with plastic to prevent any contamination from getting into the soil or water.
Does Blue Planet accept or exchange burnt-out CFLs for new ones?
No. The purpose of the exchange program is to encourage people to save money and electricity by replacing old-style bulbs with new, efficient bulbs. Those with old CFL bulbs should recycle them at Home Depot.
What happens to the old light bulbs that we are collecting? Do they get recycled?
Blue Planet is developing ways to recycle or reuse the old bulbs we collect. For a thorough and informative guide to bulb-recycling, click here.
Can we accept any kind of light bulb in exchange for our CFLs?
(For example: Christmas lights, oven lights, or any light other than 60 watts.)
We will only accept light bulbs that can be replaced by a CFL. Almost any bulb that has a standard screw-in mount should be OK.
- Energy Star-qualified CFLs use at least two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and last up to 10 times longer (average lifespan of a CFL is five years).
- CFLs save $119 or more in energy costs in Hawaii over each bulb’s lifetime.
- CFLs generate 70% less heat, making them safer to operate.
Where to use:
- To get more energy savings, replace bulbs where lights are on the most, such as the family and living rooms, kitchen, dining room and porch.
- Install them in hard to reach fixtures, like ceiling fans.
- Make sure the CFL matches the right fixture by reading any restrictions on the package. Some CFLs work with dimmers, and others are specially made for recessed or enclosed fixtures.
- CFLs have a harsh, cold light quality. Increasingly, this is less of a complaint. Over the past few years, manufacturers have worked to provide a warmer color. Some people say they still notice a difference, but the gap is narrowing. For a warmer, white light, look for a color temperature of 2,700-3,000K on the package.
- CFLs aren’t for bathrooms. Not necessarily. Some CFLs are designed to work in steamy bathrooms. Bulbs without vent holes in the base are more moisture-resistant. Hawaii Energy has a helpful bulb selection guide.
- CFLs can’t be used in older houses. In fact, CFLs may work better than incandescent bulbs in houses with older wiring; CFLs generate less heat and draw less electrical current.
For more information:
Hawaii Energy: hawaiienergy.com
Energy Star Website: energystar.gov
EPA Website: epa.gov
Bulb Recycling: lamprecycle.org