The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 31, 2007

Broken CFLs – a Scary Halloween Story

Happy Halloween. After reading nearly twenty articles this past month on how to “green” your Halloween, Michael and I have decided to skip it altogether this year and opt for a nice Ethiopian dinner out with friends. That solves our problem of finding plastic-free Halloween treats to hand out. None. Of course, if you were hoping I’d post my solutions for a plastic-free Halloween, I’ve let us all down! Oh well… there’s always next year. Feel free to post your own solutions to the Halloween greed-fest in the comments.
In the meantime, continuing with the global warming/energy conservation theme this week, and needing to provide a little Halloween scare, I thought I’d share some information I just discovered.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we had bought a package of Phillips CFLs from Costco (in the days when we weren’t being careful about plastic) and had such a hard time getting them out of the blister or clamshell or whatever the heck it’s called, that a bulb broke while we were just trying to cut the pack open. Oh, great, we thought, knowing that CFLs contain come mercury but not knowing really what that means or what we should do about it.

We cleaned up the pieces as best we could, not taking any particular precautions besides trying not to touch the glass as much as possible. Now I find that we did everything wrong, according to the EPA. This is what we should have done, per instructions on the EPA’s web site:

    1. Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.


  • Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a sealed plastic bag.



  • Use disposable rubber gloves, if available (i.e., do not use bare hands). Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the plastic bag.



  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.



  • Place all cleanup materials in a second sealed plastic bag.



  • Place the first bag in a second sealed plastic bag and put it in the outdoor trash container or in another outdoor protected area for the next normal trash disposal. Note: Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken lamps be taken to a local recycling center.



  • Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.


If a fluorescent bulb breaks on a rug or carpet:

    1. First, remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner, following the steps above. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.


  • If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag or vacuum debris in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.


Okay, so Michael and I are already dead. But you don’t have to be. (Or are these precautions overkill?)

One commenter yesterday mentioned we could get CFLs in cardboard from Whole Foods. So that will be my mission this weekend: returning the rest of the Phillips bulbs to Costco and finding some that won’t burst when we open the package.

P.S. If I’d planned ahead for Halloween, I might have sprung for College Farm Organic candies [10/2013 Update: the company seems to have gone out of business] which are not only organic but come wrapped in compostable corn-starch-based wrappers.

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16 years ago

I’m hoping I just got a bad bulb, but I should warn you that the 100 watt replacement I bought at Whole Foods in the lovely cardboard container is the worst CFL I’ve purchased in the past four years — it’s so dim for the first three minutes that I have to turn on my horrible old fluorescent tube light over the sink. It’s annoying, and, worse, it’s the sort of thing that could really turn a person against CFLs.

Lynn from
16 years ago

I just found your blog through BestGreenBlogs. I see we have a lot in common – I’ve been blogging about the Cheap Plastic Crap that kids haul home from birthday parties and school fairs. Unfortunately, some of this non-recyclable horror came home on Halloween too!
Can’t wait to read through your posts – I have a feeling we’ll be getting to know each other!
Best, Lynn

Rejin L
16 years ago

We broke a few CFLs of the first blister-pack we bought as well. Between the blister pack and the mercury, this is another example of one problem being solved by creating a new problem. I recently read an article that explained that the chemical that replaced chlorofluorocarbons in aerosol sprays is a bad greenhouse gas. (So we fix the ozone by destroying the biosphere.)
I really wonder if turning off more lights isn’t a better option than switching to cfls.

16 years ago

For blister packs I use a razor knife. That’s no solution for kids but it sure does the job quickly, cleanly and easily.

Per your remark about already being dead, we all have to realize that though there are risks we are far far far better off than any generation before us and the risks we face are literally and figuratively microscopic compared to the bad old days when exposures were far higher, more common and occurred in ignorance of the danger.

As an example – DDT – it was in “mosquito spray” that was pumped out in thick heavy clouds every summer in the neighborhood when I was growing up in the 1950’s. They did it during the day. Not only did we not stay indoors, we flocked to the truck and rode our bikes through this artificial fog that was so dense and so much fun! We would walk next to the nozzle and get our arms soaking wet with the spray coming out. Our eyes would burn so badly that we’d seek out lawn sprinklers to wash them out. But, at 58 years old, I’m still here and healthy. Who knows what is in store for me but we do have to keep our fear in perspective.

16 years ago

I found cardboard packaged CFLs at Target. Those blister packs ought to be outlawed.

Check out this video about a child trying to open one filled with toys

16 years ago

They definitely do save energy, quite a bit. Our electricity comes 85% from coal, which creates mercury pollution in the air and water. Our local anti-mercury group (which has been lobbying for stricter control of coal-plant pollution) put out a FAQ saying using CFLs creates less mercury pollution than using incandescents.

Also, your local hazardous waste collection site probably takes CFLs wrapped in paper grocery bags (along with old mercury thermometers you find laying around). Mercury is a pretty common substance in the waste stream, and if your locality does any hazardous waste pickup or dropoff, they take mercury.

Timothy Latz
16 years ago

Ugh, CFL’s are both good and bad. Bad in the fact that at some point, there is going to have to be some sort of recycling set up tokeep a billion of these bulbs from entering landfills..

Yes, they may save energy. They put off a strange light though. I’m not a huge fan of CFL’s.

16 years ago

ok, the only thing remotely green about this halloween was a)she wore last year’s costume and b)we used a treat bucket we can save for next year.

MAM got some plasticy treats (glow bracelets, rubber balls, etc), which I actually preferred to the crappy candy (the chocolate, of course was welcome).

How about pencils, crayons, or other somewhat useful trinkets? At least it could be used…

Radical Garbage Man
16 years ago


I also opted for “plastic free” by staying home on the 31st. However, Saturday preceding Halloween has some plastic in it as I went to a big party at a night club where drinks were served in plastic cups. I did make a point of having the nice bartenders reuse my and my friend’s cups for each subsequent drink and by simply mentioning my desire to conserve resources, the whole bar staff was immediately on board.

As for trick or treats, honestly, how many kids ever actually found razor blades in their apples or were poisoned by homemade cookies? I grew up with this sensational fear, with every Bay Area TV station showing Halloween safety tips including footage of Emergency Rooms doing free X-ray scans of candy. Besides, candy is so bad for kids. If there were any in my neighborhood, I would rather give them a nice apple from the farmer’s market (which would cost way more than some crappy, low-quality chocolate or corn syrup with artificial color) or some of my excellent home-made cookies or even a nice paper bag full of popcorn. Bah Humbug (or whatever the Halloween equivalent is).

16 years ago

My mom always handed out apples for Halloween. I always was so embarassed, but now I look back, and she was way ahead of her time! We did pass out candy with plastic wrappers…mainly because I am too tired to research alternatives. Thanks for letting me know about the organic candy with the recycled wraps. Good to know for next year!