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​How to Safely Dispose of Mercury Lights


It’s something we rarely think about: the light bulbs we turn on with the flick of a switch. We may know how they work, what wattage they are, and even how much they cost, but do we know what’s inside them or how to get rid of them? Do we know how to get rid of fluorescent lighting legally and safely?

Recycle your mercury bulbs

Mercury lamps, according to the Australian Government, are the single largest category of mercury-containing item and we should all be aware of recycling mercury bulbs and how to go about it. Mercury-containing lamps include bulbs such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs, found in homes), the fluorescent tubing you see in buildings and offices, and the lights you see at your favourite sporting ground or illuminating the street where you live. This latter kind, called High Intensity Discharge lights, can contain as much as 1000 milligrams of mercury per lamp. The higher the energy use, the more mercury needed for the bulb.

CFLs are regulated by law and contain only 5mg per bulb – and even with the mercury inside, they’re still safer to run than the older incandescent bulbs, which use more electricity to run – and burning coal to produce electricity releases mercury. This means that despite containing mercury, CFLs generate up to 80% less of the chemical than incandescent bulbs. However the mercury inside them is in a vapour form, which can be detrimental to one’s health when the bulb is broken and the gas released.

When we incorrectly dispose of any light bulb containing mercury we not only run the risk of this mercury making its way into the water table, but also poisoning the land and air. Mercury can be a very dangerous substance, causing:

  • muscle tremors
  • muscle atrophy
  • headaches
  • weakness
  • nerve damage
  • cognitive decline.

In high enough doses, it can kill.

The best way to dispose of mercury lamps is to contact your local council and ask what should be done – they may have a specific site or procedure for recycling fluorescent lights. If it isn’t an industrial quantity, there are usually drop off points. There may also be available recycling facilities that can safely recover not only the mercury but the other chemicals that are found in CFLs. The safe and correct disposal of CFLs and other mercury lamps is everyone’s responsibility. 

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