Introduction to CFL Recycling
When an incandescent light bulb burns out you throw it in the trash. Simple enough. When a CFL or Compact Fluorescent Lamp burns out, you just throw it in the trash too, right? Wrong!
CFL's contain mercury and mercury has no place in our landfills. Most spent commercial fluorescent lamps used in business are carefully controlled and recycled by law under the EPA's Universal Waste Rule. It is unfortunate that with all the hype surrounding residential CFL's there has been such a lack of information on the need to recycle these bulbs and not throw them away. Public awareness on the hazards of CFL's and how to dispose of them properly has been abysmal.
Why all the fuss? CFL's contain about 5 milligrams of a neurotoxin called mercury. MSNBC reports that data interpolated from Stanford University research shows the amount of mercury in one CFL "is enough to contaminate up to 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels." An EPA funded study found that one gram of mercury deposited in a 20 acre lake is enough to contaminate the fish and make them unfit to eat.
The reason mercury is so dangerous to humans, wildlife and the environment is that mercury is toxic in many forms and can easily transfer from air to soil and to water. Mercury also bioaccumulates in living organisms and increases in toxicity levels as it moves up the food chain.
The recycling industry estimates that in 2007 about 400 million CFL's were purchased in the USA but only 2% were recycled. That's 320 million CFL's in the trash. Irresponsibly adding billions of spent and broken CFL's to our landfills is a looming environmental problem of epic proportions. If CFL's are to be used they need to be handled properly through their entire life cycle, including disposal.