Detractors of compact fluorescent light bulbs always mention the “toxic mercury content”. What they don’t say is just how insignificant the amount of mercury in CFLs is. Contemporary compact fluorescent light bulbs contain about 4 or 5 milligrams of mercury, a tiny amount. To put that in perspective, consider that old-style mercury thermometers contained around 500 milligrams of mercury. You’d need around 100 to 125 CFLs to match a single old thermometer.
CFLs are not the only common item that require special disposal. Batteries too require disposal at a toxic waste depot rather than tossing them in the trash like a milk carton. These facilities then recycle the waste instead of letting it accumulate into a giant pile of poison.
The cleanup required for broken compact fluorescent light bulbs
is not so much dangerous as it is annoying. It requires some preparation, but you don’t need to get into some sort of disease-protection battlegear. Just get some gloves and a facemask in case there is mercury dust floating about. Ventilate the area which you are cleaning, and turn off your central air for 15-30 minutes. After that, grab a brush and dustpan and sweep the mercury onto the dustpan (a piece of paper would work too, just need to get the dust off the ground without spreading it through the air.
After that, put the dust into a sealed container and take it to a Home Depot or other local bulb dropoff. They will recycle the dust and no harm will be done! I’ve haven’t had to do this yet; the CFLs I bought 5 years ago are are still running strong.