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Green Guru
Advice for the Eco-minded

Chris Stein/Stone/Getty Images

What should I do with CFLs when they burn out?
—Matthew Wallach, Tucson, AZ

CFLs, those curled light bulbs, are much more energy-efficient than their incandescent counterparts—and last up to 12 times longer. Despite their obvious appeal, they present a quandary: what to do with them after they go dark.

With an average of four milligrams of mercury, CFLs often qualify as hazardous waste, just like the unused oil-based paint and motor oil in your garage, so don’t trash them. Recycle them instead. As incandescents are giving way to CFLs—Americans bought 400 million last year—more drop-off sites for burned-out bulbs are popping up. “By recycling your CFLs you will keep the mercury out of the environment,” says Megan Dobransky, resource editor for Earth911.com, which hosts the country’s largest and most accurate recycling directory.

Your local waste management agency may take CFLs (enter your zip code at Earth911 to find out). Retail stores, including Home Depot and Lowe’s, also have recycling programs. The EPA offers several suggestions, too, including ordering pre-labeled containers to mail used bulbs to recycling centers.
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