Why is safety important when disposing of a broken CFL?

Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) – like any fluorescent light bulb – contain a small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing. The average CFL contains about four milligrams of mercury, about enough to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen. As a comparison, an old-fashioned mercury fever thermometer contains about 500 milligrams of mercury, about 125 times as much. The mercury is safely contained inside the CFL when the bulb is in use and as long as the bulb is not broken. Safety becomes an issue if the CFL is broken.

How do I safely clean up a broken CFL?

These instructions are adapted from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

  1. Open nearby windows to disperse any vapor that may escape.
  2. Carefully sweep up the fragments (do not use your hands).
  3. Wipe the area with a disposable paper towel to remove all glass fragments. Do not use a vacuum cleaner.
  4. Place all fragments in a sealed plastic bag or jar with a lid.
  5. Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
  6. Wash your hands after disposing of plastic bag or jar containing clean-up materials.

How do I dispose of a burned-out CFL?

Burned-out CFLs are considered household hazardous waste (like batteries or some types of paint) and should be properly recycled. Never put burned-out CFLs in the trash.

To locate household hazardous waste disposal facilities near you, click here: Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Sites

For more information

EPA Mercury-Containing Light Bulb Frequent Questions:

EPA Fact Sheet:  How to Dispose of Compact Fluorescent Lamps: CFLs and Mercury (PDF, 72KB)