Cleaning up broken CFL light bulbs containing mercury
The short-term nature of the potential exposure to mercury—particularly after effective clean-up of broken CFL material—does not constitute a significant health risk to exposed adults, pregnant women or children.
By following these instructions for clean-up and disposal as a cautionary approach, it will help to further reduce any risks:
- First, open nearby windows and doors to allow the room to ventilate for 15 minutes before cleaning up the broken light bulb. Turn off air conditioning or heating equipment which could recirculate mercury vapours back into the room.
- Use disposable rubber gloves rather than bare hands.
- Do not use a vacuum cleaner or broom on hard surfaces because this can spread the contents of the light bulb and contaminate the cleaner. Instead, scoop up broken material (e.g. using stiff paper or cardboard) if possible into a glass container which can be sealed with a metal lid.
- Use a disposable brush to carefully sweep up the pieces.
- Wipe up any remaining glass fragments or powders using sticky tape, a damp cloth or damp paper.
- On carpets or fabrics, carefully remove as much glass or powdered material as possible using a scoop and sticky tape. If vacuuming is needed to remove residual material you will need to discard the vacuum bag or thoroughly wipe clean the vacuum cleaner canister afterwards.
- Finally, dispose of any clean-up equipment such as gloves, brush, damp paper and sealed containers containing pieces of broken light bulb in your outside rubbish bin—never in your recycling bin.
While not all of the recommended clean-up and disposal equipment described above may be available (particularly a suitably sealed glass container) it is important to remember to remove broken CFL and clean-up materials to an outside rubbish bin (preferably sealed) as soon as possible. This will reduce the potential contamination indoors.
Disposing of used CFLs
At present, CFLs can generally be disposed of in regular garbage bins – where the garbage goes to landfill. You should always check with your local authority—such as your council— responsible for garbage collection for their advice on disposal of CFLs as different local authorities may have different arrangements. For example, some garbage is sent to waste processors and this may change the disposal arrangements.
If you dispose of CFLs in a regular garbage bin you should wrap them in newspaper to prevent them from breaking.
CFLs shouldn’t be placed in recycling bins because they can break during transport and contaminate recyclable items. Several Australian states have household chemical collection programs and drop-off points that accept CFLs for recycling. Other states are considering introducing similar schemes.
Government action on disposal of compact fluorescent lamps
Fluoro-Cycle is a voluntary partnership between government and industry to increase recycling of mercury-containing lamps.
The Environment Protection Heritage Council (EPHC)— made up of state, territory, and Australian Government environment ministers— has investigated issues associated with disposal methods of CFLs. The EPHC have supported Fluoro-Cycle since May 2009.
Read more about the Fluoro-Cycle scheme.