CFLs and Mercury

The amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing of a CFL is on average 5 milligrams – roughly equivalent to an amount that would cover the tip of a ball-point pen. No mercury is released when the bulbs are intact or in use. By comparison, older thermometers contain about 500 milligrams of mercury.

The highest source of mercury in our air comes from burning fossil fuels such as coal, the most common fuel used in the U.S. to produce electricity. Because CFLs require less electricity than incandescent bulbs, less mercury is emitted at the power plant when these energy-saving bulbs are used.

If a CFL breaks in your home, open nearby windows, carefully sweep up the fragments (do not use your hands) and wipe the area with a disposable paper towel to remove all glass fragments. Do not use a vacuum.

Contact your local solid waste agency for information about CFL recycling options. If your city permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the CFL in two plastic bags and put into the outside trash. CFLs should not be disposed of in an incinerator.

The Home Depot in Sioux Falls at 2523 S. Louise Ave. accepts CFLs for free recycling.

Some information for this feature was provided by the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.