Fluorescent Bulbs and Tubes

Why should I use fluorescent lamps?

Most of the energy consumed by traditional light bulbs is given off as heat - not light! Fluorescent tubes and bulbs use about 75 percent less energy and can last up to 10 times longer than traditional light bulbs. Each fluorescent light you install in your home will save about $30 in energy costs over its lifetime.

Compact fluorescent bulbs contain approximately five milligrams of mercury (roughly enough to cover the tip of a ball-point pen). This small amount of mercury is the key element which makes them so energy efficient, and it poses no harm to your family or the environment while the bulb remains intact.

DO NOT put unbroken fluorescent tubes or bulbs in the trash. Instead, please recycle them. Broken fluorescent bulbs should be placed in the trash. However, please follow the directions below.

What should I do if a fluorescent bulb or tube breaks?

See the Environmental Protection Agency's website for detailed instructions.

How do I recycle them?


Carefully remove the bulb or tube from the lighting appliance. Always remove it by the base, not the glass. Place unbroken bulb or tube in original packaging if available. Unbroken compact fluorescent bulbs (which screw into standard lamp sockets) may be taken to the returns desk of any Home Depot Store. Fluorescent tubes are not accepted at Home Depot. See individual store for details.  Both fluorescent tubes and bulbs are accepted at the county household hazardous waste sites during scheduled hours.

Unbroken compact fluorescent bulbs, full size fluorescent bulbs and tubes may be taken to the county's household hazardous waste sites during scheduled dates and times. In addition, they are accepted at some special collection events. See our activity calendar for a list of upcoming dates and times. Call 703-324-5230, TTY 711 for more information. Commercial Businesses may NOT take fluorescent bulbs or other hazardous materials to the county's household hazardous waste sites. For information about the disposal of commercial hazardous waste, see business hazardous waste.

To learn about methods for managing fluorescent light bulbs as a business, see Light Bulb Disposal Options.

BUSINESS TIP: Fairfax County’s Facilities Management Division purchases “green tip” fluorescent lamps containing the least amount of mercury in this product. The FMD Director states that the county demonstrates its commitment to environmental stewardship by focusing on the appropriate management of mercury in the lamps while supporting ‘green purchasing’ policies. This is a good program for businesses to adopt to prevent pollution in the county.” For additional information about the county fluorescent lamp recycling program, call 703-293-8060, TTY 711.

What is the recycling process?

Once collected at one of our household hazardous waste facilities or a special collection event, tubes and bulbs are placed in a special drum for transport to a facility specially designed to process these items. The tubes and bulbs are crushed utilizing special equipment to ensure that none of the materials - including the phosphor powder and the mercury vapor - escape into the atmosphere. The glass and aluminum in the lights are separated and cleaned for recycling. The phosphor powder is separated from the mercury-bearing powder and both are collected for further processing. This mercury-bearing powder will later be processed to remove the mercury for eventual reuse.

More Questions?

Please contact the Solid Waste Management Program at 703-324-5230, TTY 711.

See Also:
A-Z List of Recycling and Trash Topics
FAQs - recycling (general)
Materials for Recycling or Disposal
The Know Toxics Program

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