Eco Wise

Disposing of Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Sunday, October 7, 2007

As you probably know, compact fluorescent light bulbs are one of the easiest ways to reduce your impact on the planet. Swapping one regular light bulb for a CFL will save about 260 pounds of carbon dioxide each year and save $25 to $45 in energy bills over the life of the bulb, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

However, even long-lasting CFLs eventually die, and what you may not know is that they contain a small amount of mercury, a potent neurotoxin. If you toss the bulbs in the trash, they're likely to break, potentially exposing workers to mercury or releasing it into groundwater and soil from landfills.

The good news? CFLs can be recycled. In the District, Eco-Green Living accepts used bulbs at its store (1469 Church St. NW, 202-234-7110) and will take them at its booth during today's D.C. Green Festival at the Washington Convention Center (visit for details). Another good bet is Ikea, which has CFL drop-off bins. The stores -- in Woodbridge and College Park -- are also a great place to stock up on new bulbs.

Other options:

  • Residents of Chevy Chase and Rockville can take advantage of curbside hazardous waste pickup programs. (To schedule an appointment, call 301-654-7300 for Chevy Chase or 240-314-8568 for Rockville.)
  • The Shady Grove Solid Waste Transfer Station in Montgomery County accepts CFLs (16101 Frederick Rd., Derwood, 240-777-6410).
  • The Brown Station Road Sanitary Landfill in Prince George's County takes household hazardous waste on Sundays (11611 White House Rd., Upper Marlboro, 301-952-7625).
  • In Arlington County, you can drop off CFLs at the Water Pollution Control Plant (3155 S. Fern St., 703-228-6832).
  • Fairfax County residents can drop off CFLs at the I-66 Transfer Station Complex (4618 W. Ox Rd., Fairfax, 703-631-1179).
  • Loudoun County will hold a household hazardous waste collection (CFL bulbs are one of many items accepted) Oct. 20 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Northern Virginia Community College (1000 Harry Flood Byrd Hwy., Sterling, 703-777-0187). For a schedule of collections, see
  • If your location isn't covered here, you can search by Zip code at

The other question: What if your CFL bulb breaks? Each bulb contains only 5 mg of mercury, but it's best to use caution.

The Environmental Protection Agency's advice: First open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes; then use rubber gloves to scoop up the powder and fragments, even if the breakage is on carpet or a rug. Wipe the area with a damp paper towel or a disposable wipe, and use tape to pick up remaining fragments.

Seal the materials in a plastic bag, place that in a second sealable plastic bag and take the whole thing to a household hazardous waste recycling center. Vacuum the area last, and then remove the vacuum's bag and double-bag it in two sealable plastic bags. (For a complete guide to using and disposing of CFLs, visit, go to the "Lighting" section, then click on " How to Dispose of Compact Fluorescent Lamps.")

-- Eviana Hartman

© 2007 The Washington Post Company