Mercury in CFLs - LC policy Jan 08

Mercury in Compact Fluorescent Lamps
Energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) contain small quantities of
Most modern CFLs contain less than 5 milligrams, an amount
approximately equivalent to the tip of a ball point pen. To further put this into
perspective, it takes between 100 and 600 CFLs to make up the mercury in a
common household thermometer. An average watch battery contains up to 25
milligrams of mercury.
It is important to note that using CFLs actually reduces the amount of mercury being
released into the atmosphere. They do this by decreasing electricity consumption
and, therefore, electricity production (coal fired power stations emit mercury). Using
CFLs is far better for the environment than using standard incandescent lamps.
Q: Are CFLs safe?
A: The small amount of mercury sealed in a CFL does not pose a hazard to users.
However, mercury is a toxic metal and every product containing mercury should be
handled with care. We should dispose of used CFLs properly and clean up any
broken CFL safely.
Q: How do I safely dispose of a used CFL?
A: Recycling is the best way to dispose of used CFLs. While businesses, hospitals
and schools often pay a recycling company to collect spent CFLs and fluorescent
tubes, many communities now have hazardous waste collection schemes to enable
residents to deposit batteries, paint, motor oil, CFLs and so on. For recycling, check
with your local council or government for advice.
If no recycler is able to take your CFLs, we suggest you store them in a safe place
until a recycling programme is implemented in your area. Good quality CFLs lasts for
around 6,000 hours, which translate to approximately three years of five and halfhours-a-day usage.
As a last resort, burnt-out CFLs could be placed inside a plastic bag, firmly sealed,
and then put into your household rubbish.
Q: How do I safely clean up a broken CFL?
If a CFL breaks, you should open nearby windows and doors to ventilate the room.
Carefully sweep up the pieces, and then use a paper towel to wipe up any remaining
glass fragments.
Do not use your hands - we recommend wearing disposable plastic gloves.
Do not use a vacuum cleaner, which can trap or spread the mercury in the
Seal the pieces, plastic gloves and paper towel in a plastic bag for safe disposal.
Q: Does using CFLs contribute to mercury pollution?
A: Using energy-saving CFLs actually reduces the amount of mercury released into
the atmosphere, where it most affects our health. How?
Most mercury in the air comes from burning fossil fuels to generate electricity.
CFLs use 80% less energy than a standard incandescent bulb, reducing the
need for electricity production.
CFLs thus help to reduce mercury emissions, as well as carbon dioxide and
greenhouse gas emissions.
Q: Will the proposed phase-out of inefficient light bulbs and the expected
increased usage of CFLs cause an increase in mercury emissions?
The National Pollutant Inventory reported that Australia’s total annual emissions of
mercury in 2005/06 were 28,000 kg. It has been estimated that emissions from all
lamps (not just CFLs) constitute just 1.7% of this figure. The increased use of CFLs
brought about by the phase-out of incandescent globes will add an additional 0.19%
to this figure. Hence the proportion of mercury released to the environment as a
consequence of the phase-out is small compared to total emissions.
However, as noted above, the increased use of CFLs will lead to a net reduction of
mercury emissions because of reduced reliance on energy from coal-fired power
Q: Is there an alternative to CFLs?
A: Lighting Council Australia members are now working to develop LED (lightemitting diode) technology as a practical CFL alternative. LEDs, which have been
used in electronics for decades, convert 90% of the incoming electrical charge into a
luminous energy and use only one-eighth of the power of traditional bulbs and less
than half that for CFLs. They also last a very long time - up to 50,000 hours