University of Vermont

Recycling & Waste Management

Broken Fluorescent Lamps

Broken Fluorescent Light Bulbs

broken-bulbs Special precautions must be used to cleanup a broken fluorescent lightbulb.


When a fluorescent lamp is broken, the mercury released can contaminate the air, surfaces, skin, and the environment. All broken fluorescent bulbs must be collected as hazardous waste per Vermont's Universal Waste Management Standard. This includes fluorescent lamps (even the “green” cap or low mercury type), compact fluorescent lamps, ultra-violet lamps, black light tubes, neon lights and HID bulbs.

Broken bulbs can also cause a laceration due to the broken glass tube.  A hot broken bulb can present a burn injury.  An exposed bulb filament can present a shock hazard if handled while power remains applied to the fixture. If lamps are broken, care must be taken to minimize exposure to the dust and broken glass.

Proper Disposal at UVM

If a fluorescent light bulb breaks, do not use a vacuum cleaner! Ventilate the area by closing interior doors and opening exterior doors or windows for at least 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes has passed, carefully remove all materials you can:
  1. Wear disposable rubber gloves, if available. Carefully scoop up the fragments and the mercury (white) powder with stiff paper or cardboard.
  2. Use wide tape (duct tape) to pick up additional small glass pieces and white powder. 
  3. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or disposable wet wipe. 
  4. Place all parts of the broken fluorescent bulb, towels and tape in a clear plastic bag - Double-bag if necessary. Seal the bag. 
  5. Wash your hands afterwards. 
If the bulb has broken on a carpet or rug, complete the above steps and then:
  1. Take rug outside, shake and air for as long as possible. 
  2. If carpeted, contact Physical Plant (on campus only) to consider removing that section of carpet (especially in areas frequented by children, infants or pregnant women). 
  3. The first time the area is vacuumed, ventilate (as above) and remove the vacuum bag/contents immediately and seal in a plastic bag. Wipe the vacuum with wet wipe. 
  4. After vacuuming, keep the exterior window/door open as long as practical. 
Seal all debris, wipes and gloves in a bag and place the bag outside of the living area in an area inaccessible to children or animals. On-campus, contact Environmental Safety  or off-campus, contact Chittenden Solid Waste District to dispose of the "bagged debris" as well as boxed-up burned-out light bulbs from UVM residence halls and other locations.

For more information, the Vermont Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation have published fact sheets at or call the VT Department of Health at 1-800-439-8550. [*The above guidance is taken from “Fact Sheet: Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs” by Vermont Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation.]

Final Destination

UVM sends broken fluorescent lightbulbs to Complete Recycling Solutions, LLC  in Fall River, MA. CRS offers a recycling technology which separates mercury containing lamps into their main components, recovers the mercury, and recycles 100 percent of the end products.

[Return to Recycling & Waste Disposal Guide]

Last modified April 06 2011 02:33 PM

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