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Determining where to recycle fluorescent bulbs can require a little research and patience. Each community has a different way of handling fluorescent bulbs, and it may not be as easy to recycle these as it other materials in your town. If recycling is not available there are other ways to dispose of the bulbs.
The reason that it is difficult to recycle fluorescent bulbs is because the bulbs are made of several components which must be separated in order to properly dispose of them. It is a much more labor-intensive process than recycling soda bottles or newspapers. One of the components of fluorescent bulbs is mercury, which means that recycling rather than sending to the landfill is the best option for these bulbs.
When a fluorescent bulb is recycled, the recycler separates the different components of the bulb. The metal end caps are sold for scrap metal. The glass is remanufactured into new glass and the mercury is reused in new fluorescent light bulbs.
The labor intensive need to separate the bulb’s components means that many communities are not set up to recycle fluorescent bulbs. The best way to determine if your community is capable of recycling these bulbs is to call your local or state environmental regulatory agency. They can give you the nearest location that provides recycling for fluorescent bulbs.
If your community does not have an established plan for recycling fluorescent bulbs, you should consider carefully how you dispose of them. While most communities do not require that these bulbs be treated as hazardous waste, they do contain, on average, five milligrams of mercury per bulb. The mercury can leak out of the bulbs if they are broken or damaged. Once outside the bulb, the mercury can enter, and pollute, the groundwater.
If you must dispose of these bulbs with household trash, there are several things that you can do to reduce the risks of contaminating the soil. When one of these lights burns out, double bag it in a bag that you can seal or tie shut and place it in your outside trash receptacle. This process greatly reduces the risk of contaminating both your home and the landfill with mercury.
Whether or not you can recycle fluorescent bulbs in your area, they are still a good, energy efficient choice. They require less energy to provide light than traditional incandescent lights. Even if you must dispose of them as household trash, they reduce the amount of waste you have. Fluorescent light bulbs last approximately ten times longer than the equivalent incandescent light.
Another option to recycle compact fluorescent light bulbs can be to take them to a retail store. Last time I was in a Home Depot, for instance, I noticed that they had collection bins for used compact fluorescent lights. There was no charge for it.
Something else to keep mind is that CFLs will last longer if you do not turn them on and off frequently. They work best, both in terms of how long they last and how much energy they use, when they are left on for at least half an hour at a stretch. Considering that they are expensive and produce hazardous waste, they may not be the best choice for rooms like bathrooms where the lights are turned on and off a lot. (I found this one out the hard way!)
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