Welcome to GreenItUp, a database of common items, and how to reduce, reuse, and recycle them.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs

CFL bulbs are energy-efficient light bulbs, using up to 75% less energy and lasting 10x longer than standard incandescent bulbs.

CFL bulbs do contain a tiny amount of mercury (~5mg, 100x less than an old mercury thermometer). However, emissions from coal-fired power plants contain mercury. The power wasted by a normal incandescent light bulb releases more mercury into the air than is contained in and indirectly produced by a CFL bulb (example calculation). Berekeley’s Office of Energy and Sustainable Development explains it pretty well.


Actually, usage of CFL bulbs is encouraged over standard incandescent bulbs. However, if you prefer not to not even use CFL bulbs, consider electric lighting options such as LEDs, or modify your home with natural lighting options such as adding windows, sunroofs or solar light pipes. Candles are romantic, but nowhere near as light-efficient, and most may cause direct or indirect air pollution.


Bring your dead bulbs to IKEA for recycling.

Unfortunately, recycling options are currently slim. Search for a local recycling/disposal center, or store your dead CFLs in hopes that recycling options will become more convenient soon.


CFL bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, so treat them with caution and follow proper cleanup instructions (PDF).

If your bulb burned out and it’s Energy Star qualified, there’s a warranty period (at least two years) in which you can return the bulb to the retailer. That, or look on the bulb’s base for the manufacturer and contact them.

Search for a local recycling/disposal center.


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1 Comment »

  1. Corey Johnson said,

    October 12, 2007 @ 11:22 pm

    I found your message to my site from 8/21/2007, backed up in the database someplace…Thanks for the link.

    I have a few burned-out CFLs lying around and I have found it difficult to have them recycled. The problem is that I live in a very rural area (which used to have a household hazardous waste collection but due to financial issues they stopped it) and

    I just hope that the collection and recycling processes do not negate all of the energy that is saved by the bulbs (e.g. people should not have to drive in their cars for long distances to have them properly disposed of). I believe that appropriating some public money to ensure that local waste management authorities have household hazardous waste collection sites available is necessary, but not everyone seems to be so eager to do that, especially in this bright red county (they would sooner burn their HHW in the barrel in the backyard than pay a few bucks to deal with it properly).

    I have read much about the waste management systems in the Nordic countries, and (like many other things in the Nordic countries) should be the model for the rest of the industrialized world. If you need to dispose of something you can have it disposed of properly. They are especially vigilant about keeping mercury and other heavy metals out of the waste-to-energy plants.

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