Check for Hazardous Materials
Before you discard a broken bulb—before you even clean one up off the floor—you need to check to see if the light bulb contains any hazardous materials. Fluorescent lamps and CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) contain mercury. Mercury is a toxin and exposure to mercury can put you at risk. If you have broken fixtures containing mercury, make sure you follow these steps for safe clean-up:
- Ventilate the room to let out any mercury vapor that may have been released into the air
- Do not vacuum or sweep the mess, as this may spread mercury vapor or contaminate your cleaning objects
- Wear protective gloves, then scoop up the shards using a piece of cardboard or other disposable items
- Place broken pieces into a sealable glass jar or plastic bag
- Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up remaining small pieces
- Wipe the floor clean
- Dispose of the broken lamp. There are many recycling programs for fluorescent lamps available to keep mercury contamination out of landfills.
Other sharp objects, such as broken glass, razors blades, metal shards or medical sharps, should also be assessed for hazards before disposing of them. Items that are chemically or biologically contaminated need to be disposed of according to hazardous waste guidelines.
Seal It Up
Sharp items, like broken bulbs, broken glass or metal shards, put handlers at risk of skin penetrating injuries. Handlers can be anyone from the person cleaning up the broken bulb to sanitation workers. Anyone who will be coming into reasonable contact with these materials is at risk of being injured. Even glass or old light bulbs that are intact could break during transport and become a potential risk. Because of this, it is important to properly seal glass and other sharp objects before disposing of them.
To help prevent injury, carefully place old light bulbs and other sharp waste items into a proper disposal container. The container should be sealable and should be able to prevent penetration. Good examples are used plastic containers, such as detergent or window cleaner bottles. You can also place your broken shards in a collapsed cardboard box and seal it with tape.
Containers with sharp objects should be labeled. The label can read “sharp objects” or “broken glass”—anything to warn handlers of the potential risk inside.
Light Bulb Recycling
If you are disposing of broken glass or metal shards, you can just toss your clearly-marked container into your every-day recycling bin. However, most light bulbs are not made of materials that can be sent out with your regular recycling. This is especially true for lamps that may contain mercury. But many light fixtures of every type—regular fluorescent, incandescent, CFL—are eligible to be recycled through light bulb recycling programs. The EPA suggests searching through Earth 911 for recycling programs near you. You may also want to try your local retailers to see if they offer light bulb recycling, or have a drop-off location for your old light bulbs. You can also contact the lamp’s manufacturer, who may have mail-back services available to recycle your bulbs.
Old Bulbs Be Gone!
There are many options for recycling old light bulbs, with more becoming available all the time. If you are planning on changing out your light fixtures or upgrading to a new system, be sure to research the best recycling option for you before. It may also be a good idea to keep a list of your light bulb recycling centers on hand, for those unexpected breaks and replacements.