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How to Dispose of Fluorescent Tubes Safely

Shelley Frost

To dispose of fluorescent tubes safely, take them to a local waste collection agency or retailer that offers recycling. The mercury in the bulbs is dangerous.

How do you dispose of fluorescent tubes and CFLs safely? You shouldn't toss them in the trash like other light bulbs. They're potentially harmful to the environment, so you'll need to find a recycling program that accepts fluorescent bulbs to get rid of them safely.

What's Inside Fluorescent Bulbs?

The reason you can't simply toss your fluorescent bulbs in the trash is become they contain a small, but potentially dangerous, amount of mercury. The mercury is safe as long as it's inside the bulb. But it can be released into the environment when you toss it in the trash or when it gets crushed on incinerated at the landfill. Mercury is toxic and can cause severe health issues, so keeping it out of the environment and away from landfill employees is important.

Types of Fluorescent Bulbs

The type of fluorescent bulb you have can impact how you get rid of it. Fluorescent tubes are often found in commercial strip fixtures or shop lights that you can hang from the ceiling. They come in different types, with T-8 and T-12 being the most common. The diameter of the bulb varies based on the type. They also come in different lengths, that can range from 2 to 8 feet, which can make them more difficult to handle and ship for recycling.

A compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) is a smaller version that looks like a regular light bulb. You can use it in lamps and fixtures in place of incandescent bulbs. Since they're smaller, they're often easier to recycle. More recycling locations are willing to take them, and they're cheaper to ship back to manufacturers for recycling.

Disposing in the Trash

You might be tempted to toss your bulbs in the trash, especially CFLs, but it's never a good idea. It's not safe for the environment or trash collection employees who might come into contact with the mercury if the bulb breaks.

Some states or local governments have regulations that require you to recycle fluorescent bulbs. California, Maine, Minnesota, and New Hampshire are some of the states that require recycling for light bulbs that contain mercury. Check on local regulations before getting rid of fluorescent tubes or bulbs to avoid breaking any laws.

Recycling Fluorescent Bulbs

Recycling your old fluorescent tubes and CFLs is the safest way to get rid of them. Not only does this recycling light bulbs ensure that the mercury doesn't make it into the environment, but it also allows other parts of the bulb to be recycled, including the glass and metal. Almost everything in fluorescent lights can be recycled.

Bulb Recycling Options

Check with the waste collection agency that serves your area to determine if they have a recycling program. This option is usually free if you're a customer or resident of the area. Your agency might offer a scheduled pickup at your house, or you might be able to drop the bulbs off. Some communities have hazardous waste collection days a few times per year, which might include fluorescent bulbs.

Many home improvement stores accept old fluorescent bulbs and will have them recycled for you. Check with the store before you bring your bulbs, especially if you have fluorescent tubes that need to be recycled. Some stores might limit what type of bulbs they accept. For example, Home Depot accepts light bulbs for recycling, but there could be some locations within the chain that don't participate or only accept certain types of bulbs.

Another option is mailing the bulbs to a bulb manufacturer for recycling. Some companies only accept CFLs through the mail. You'll need to purchase a recycling kit from the company. They'll send the kit, which includes the shipping container and prepaid postage to mail it back.