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Fluorescent lights contain a gas that produces invisible ultraviolet light (UV) when the gas is excited by electricity. The UV light hits the white (phosphorus) coating inside the bulb and produces light.
Incandescent bulbs are connected directly to line voltage (120 volts) through a light fixture. Fluorescent bulbs use a ballast which transforms 120 volts to the special type of voltage to start up and operate the bulb(s).
Turning a fluorescent bulb on and off frequently can shorten the life of a bulb. New fluorescent bulbs may be whiter and brighter than an old bulb.
Fluorescent bulbs contain a small amount of mercury and are considered household hazardous waste. Most states allow households to place compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in the trash.
Recycling is a much better option for the environment. It is convenient to drop off used CFLs at certain home improvement stores. Fluorescent lights can be dropped off at community recycling events, or a hazardous waste collection center. For more info on your state, see www.epa.gov/epahome/state.htm.
Fluorescent tubes should not be disposed of in the trash. Home improvement stores normally accept only CFLs for recycling. However, if you call the electrical department of your local home improvement store, ask if you can drop off these tubes, they may accept them. Otherwise see www.earth911.org for fluorescent tube recycling locations.
Be very careful when handling fluorescent bulbs. Here are two sets of recommendations from the EPA for cleaning up a broken CFL.
1. The EPA’s quick instructions for cleaning up a broken CFL:
2. The EPA’s detailed instructions for cleaning up a broken CFL: