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Consumer Watch: CFLs make sense, but don't forget about safety and recycling

May. 10, 2012 - 02:13PM   |   Last Updated: May. 10, 2012 - 02:13PM  |  
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When they break

Here’s what the EPA says to do to reduce exposure to mercury if you break a bulb:
1. Get people and pets out of the room.
2. Air out the room for five to 10 minutes by opening a window or door to the outside.
3. Shut off central heat or air conditioning.
4. Collect the materials you need to clean up the mess.
5. Be thorough in collecting the broken glass and visible powder. Place the cleanup materials in a container that can be sealed.
6. Place all the debris from the broken bulb and the cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area until the materials can be disposed of. Avoid leaving bulb fragments or cleaning materials indoors.
7. For several hours, continue to air out the room where the bulb was broken and leave the central heating/air conditioning shut off.

If you've made the switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, you're using less energy, which is good for the environment and for your wallet.

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If you've made the switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, you're using less energy, which is good for the environment and for your wallet.

Sales of CFLs have gone up in military stores just as they have in civilian stores: Sales in Army and Air Force exchanges rose about 35 percent in 2011 over the previous year. Sales in Navy exchanges were up about 30 percent, and those stores plan to phase out incandescents altogether by 2014.

The Energy Department says CFLs cost three to 10 times more than a comparable incandescent bulb, but they last about 10 times longer — about 10,000 hours — and save about 75 percent in energy costs.

But the bulbs contain small amounts of mercury, which raises two issues:

• What to do when they break.

• How to dispose of them when they burn out.

CFLs don't emit mercury when they're intact or in use — only when you break the glass bulb. For the safety of your family and pets, you must follow the guidance on this page for cleaning up and disposing of CFLs. When it comes to disposal, you should not simply throw these bulbs in the regular trash; they should be recycled. Some states and local jurisdictions have more stringent regulations than the federal Environmental Protection Agency and may require you to recycle CFLs and other fluorescent bulbs. California, Maine, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont and Massachusetts prohibit mercury-containing bulbs from being discarded into landfills.

It's not only safer, but 99.98 percent of the mercury can be recovered when the bulb is recycled.

Whether you live on base or off, you may have to do some research to find where to recycle CFLs. First, check with your base and local housing office.

Army: At stateside and overseas posts, contact your neighborhood housing manager for guidance, said Laurie Dette, spokeswoman for the Army Environmental Command. Disposal varies by post based on state and EPA requirements.

Navy: Some bases recycle CFLs, but service officials could give no further information.

Air Force: Requirements vary from state to state and base to base, said Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. Availability of receptacles stateside will vary greatly. Check with housing office staff or look for alternatives in the community. Overseas, check with your base for the host nation's rules, or in Europe, take used bulbs to the self-help store to be exchanged for new ones. Bases dispose of the bulbs through their hazardous-waste programs.

Marine Corps: Check with your housing office.

Some alternatives:

• If you live off base, contact your local waste collection agency to find out whether it accepts CFLs and, if not, how you should dispose of them.

• Some hardware supply stores accept the bulbs for recycling. Among them are Ace Hardware, the Home Depot, Lowe's and True Value. Always check directly with the local store before you go. Visit earth911.org to find options in your area.

• Check into mail-back services. Some manufacturers and other groups sell pre-labeled kits; you fill up the kit with used bulbs and mail it back.

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