Bulb Recycling and Disposal

Many types of light bulbs contain heavy metals such as mercury and lead. Examples include:

  • Tube- and Compact-style fluorescent bulbs, including compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)
  • Mercury vapor bulbs – i.e., high intensity lamps with blue-white, originally used as farmyard lights
  • Metal halide bulbs – i.e., newer, more efficient high intensity lights
  • High and Low pressure sodium vapor bulbs – i.e., yellow lights used for outdoor security lighting
  • Ultraviolet lamps
  • Neon lamps (most colors other than red contain mercury)
  • Red LEDs typically contain mercury (other colors of LEDs typically do NOT contain mercury)
  • Black lights

Because these bulbs contain heavy metals and toxic chemicals, they should be properly disposed of to avoid contaminating the environment or harming human health. Households in Wisconsin are not legally required to recycle these bulbs. Because of the mercury or other toxic substances in many light bulbs, businesses and institutions are required to properly store and recycle used bulbs that are considered hazardous waste. This would include tube-style fluorescents, CFLs, and many other bulb types. For more information on the requirements for businesses and institutions, refer to these DNR guidelines http://dnr.wi.gov/files/PDF/pubs/wa/WA195.pdf or State Administrative Code ch. NR 673, Wis. Adm. Code [PDF exit DNR].

More information on CFLs:

Compact fluorescent lamps are used extensively in homes and businesses. CFLs use up to 75 percent less energy than a standard incandescent bulb, can last much longer than traditional bulbs, and can save money in electricity costs over the life of the bulb. While the bulbs contain a small amount of mercury (<4 mg), the EPA estimates that standard coal-fired power plants emit 10 micrograms (mg) of mercury to power an incandescent bulb over five years, in comparison with 2.4 mg of mercury to power a CFL over the same period of time. Using CFLs also results in reductions of other air emissions from power plants, including carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

Where can I Recycle CFLs?

CFL’s may last longer than incandescent bulbs, but when they burn out, they require special recycling.

Do not place the bulbs in the trash or in your curbside recycling bin. Some CFLs are fragile and breakage would release their mercury which would contaminate the trucks, your recyclables and the workers who handle them!

The only safe way to dispose of a CFL or any other fluorescent is to bring it to a retail store that sells the type of bulbs you need to recycle. Dane County Ordinance 41.24 and City of Madison Ordinances require that all stores that sell fluorescent lamps must accept used fluorescent lamps for recycling. A list of recycling locations in Dane County can be found here: https://www.countyofdane.com/pwht/recycle/public_locations.aspx?type=7&display=true. Retailers are allowed under the Ordinance to charge a fee for recycling the bulbs, so please call the retailer to determine if there are any fees.

Safety – What to do if a CFL bulb breaks in my home:

NOTE: FOR THE INITIAL CLEAN UP, DO NOT USE A VACUUM CLEANER

A vacuum cleaner will spread the mercury vapor and powder throughout the area and could contaminate the vacuum.

Don’t panic. The bulbs contain a relatively small amount of mercury, which may be released as mercury vapor, but there are safe clean up methods. Here are some simple steps:

  • OPEN THE WINDOWS BEFORE BEGINNING CLEAN UP
  • Leave the area for 15 minutes. This ventilation will significantly lower the level of mercury vapor in the area.
  • Keep people (especially infants, small children and pregnant women) and pets out of the area until the clean up is complete
  • Shut off your central forced air heating/air-conditioning system, if you have one
  • Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from sharp glass, mercury and the phosphor powder
  • Carefully remove the larger pieces and place them in a double heavy duty plastic 1-gallon re-sealable bag (Ziplock®, Gladlock® etc.) and then in a glass jar with a sealable lid.
  • Next, scoop up the smaller pieces and powder using two stiff pieces of paper (like index or playing cards)
  • Pat the area with the sticky side of duct tape to pick up the fine particles
  • Then wipe the area with a damp paper towel
  • Carefully dispose of the tape and towels in the same container used for the broken bulb
  • Tightly seal the container and remove it from your home until you can properly recycle it.
  • Continue ventilating the room and leave off the central heating/air conditioning system for several hours, if practical
  • Carefully wash your hands and face
  • Take the properly package broken CFL to the Dane County Clean Sweep Site. Visit www.danecountycleansweep.com for details.

After the initial clean up, it is a good idea to open a window the next few times when you vacuum the area where the lamp was broken.

WHAT ABOUT CARPETS?

Follow the same clean up procedure as above. If you are concerned that you weren’t able to clean up all of the powder and glass from your carpet or rug, you may want to consider removing throw rugs or the area of carpet where the breakage occurred. This may be a sensible precaution particularly if the rug is in an area used by infants, small children or pregnant women. The rugs can be disposed of with your normal household refuse. DO NOT BURN THIS CARPETING.