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How to clean up a broken fluorescent bulb

If a florescent light bulb breaks, safe cleanup practices are key.

Fluorescent lights are long lasting and when recycled properly, most of the glass, metal and mercury in them can be reused. However, because fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, when a fluorescent bulb breaks, it should be handled as hazardous waste.

Broken fluorescent bulb
Broken florescent bulbs can be a health hazard if not cleaned up properly.

Which bulbs are hazardous & why are they a safety concern?
Fluorescent light bulbs are either linear fluorescent (long skinny tubes) or compact fluorescent (small and sometimes spiraled). Linear fluorescent lights are common in workplaces and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are more common in households. Regardless of the type of fluorescent bulb, it contains mercury and must be treated like hazardous waste if it breaks.

Safe clean up instructions
Be thorough when collecting broken glass and visible powder and keep the mess contained. Clean the area where a fluorescent breaks without vacuuming or sweeping to avoid spreading mercury containing powder and mercury vapor. Do not use cleaning products, as they may react with the mercury.

Whether at home or at work, cleaning up a broken fluorescent bulb is the same.

Materials for cleanupWhat you need

  1. Stiff paper or cardboard
  2. Sticky tape, such as duct tape
  3. Paper towels or baby wipes
  4. A glass jar with a metal lid or a sealable plastic bag
  5. Best practice: wear gloves and a dust mask


Before cleanup

  • Have people and pets leave the room – especially children and pregnant women.
  • Air out the room for 10-15 minutes by opening a door or window to the outdoor environment before starting to clean.
  • Shut off the HVAC system if you have one.
  • Remove jewelry before cleaning; mercury can attach to gold or silver.

During cleanup

  • Use stiff paper or cardboard to scoop up glass fragments and powder.
  • Use sticky tape to pick up remaining small glass fragments and powder

Using tape to pick up small fragments
Sticky tape captures small fragments and powder.

  • If cleaning a hard surface, wipe the area with a damp paper towel or disposable baby wipe.
  • Place all bulb fragments, powder, and cleanup materials (stiff paper or cardboard, sticky tape, paper towels or disposable baby wipes, gloves and dust mask) in the glass jar or plastic bag.

Bulb fragments in plastic bag  Bulb fragments in glass jar
Bulb fragments and cleanup materials should be placed in a sealed plastic bag or glass jar, and taken to a hazardous waste facility.

After cleanup

  • If powder got on your clothing, dispose of your clothing in the same way as other materials used to clean up the break. Laundering clothing that comes into contact with the powder can contaminate the washing machine and water flowing into the sewer system with mercury.
  • Continue to air out the room where the bulb broke for at least 12 hours and keep HVAC shut off.
  • If the bulb broke on carpet, periodically ventilate the room with open windows and doors because mercury vapors can be released from the carpet into the room.
  • Label the container and place it outdoors or in a protected area until it can be properly disposed of.
  • Take the sealed container to a hazardous waste facility or collection event that can properly deal with hazardous waste. Call 503-234-3000 for help locating the nearest facility or collection event.

Quick links and additional information

Guest post written by Mia Reback, Sustainability at Work intern.

EcoChallenge 2014

Northwest Earth Institute hosts the annual challenge October 15-30 to help people discover change, together.

The Northwest Earth Institute’s EcoChallenge is a great way to engage your workplace around sustainability – it’s no wonder 5,000 people and businesses have taken the challenge!

It’s a great way to build enthusiasm for workplace sustainability and to kickstart or strengthen sustainability initiatives. Your challenge can take place outside of work and still contribute to your workplace team.


When: October 15-30
What: Choose an action to take, at home or at work, for two weeks.
How: Create a team – even if it’s just two people! – and register.
Why: Build team spirit, win prizes, and get into new (good) habits!

Example Challenges
The EcoChallenge website has example challenges from six different categories to help you find a challenge that works for you. Or, if you want ideas for work, read over our certification checklists for office, restaurant, retail and grocery.

  • Water Conservation: Check for leaks: dripping faucets can waste 20 gallons of water per day.
  • Energy Efficiency: Replace incandescent light bulbs with LEDs.
  • Sustainable Food Options: Don’t eat food that comes in disposable containers – including coffee cups.
  • Alternative Transportation: Take the 2 mile challenge – bike or walk for any trips shorter than 2 miles.
  • Trash Reduction: set up or improve recycling in your workplace. We can help! Visit our website or contact a sustainability advisor to learn more.
  • Or, choose your own!

How to participate:

  1. Choose your EcoChallenge action. Start by browsing through the example challenges.
  2. Register for EcoChallenge – Sign up or reactivate your account from last year.
  3. Connect with your team – To start your workplace team, select “start a team” and NWEI will help you invite coworkers to join. Or, select “join a team” to join an existing team. You can participate in the EcoChallenge alone, but part of the fun is getting to know your coworkers and supporting each other.
  4. Create your EcoChallenge profile page – your online profile will help you keep track of your goals and make the challenge more successful.
  5. Make a plan to achieve your EcoChallenge – Think through what you’ll need to take your new action – if you need to prepare anything, get it ready now so it’s easy from day one!
  6. Share your participation far and wide. Let family, friends, and coworkers know what you’re doing and invite them to join!
  7. On October 15, start working on your challenge goals and log in daily to chart your progress.

Did you know you can compete against another team? Team captains can challenge another team, and the team with the greatest number of EcoChallenge points wins. Do you share a building with other businesses? Get to know your neighbors through some friendly competition.

Are you up for the challenge? Sign up today at


About NWEI
Based in Portland, Oregon, NWEI is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire people to take responsibility for Earth. They believe the solution to many of Earth’s biggest challenges lies in the power of collective change. The EcoChallenge is an annual event to help people kick-start change and make smalls steps that lead to big changes for our planet.

Quick Links:

Guest post written by Mia Reback, Sustainability at Work intern.

Bike Commute Challenge 2014

Learn how to register for the challenge, what counts as a bike commute, and how to best get ready.

It’s almost September which means it’s Bike Commute Challenge time!

Every year, the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) organizes the Bike Commute Challenge to encourage more people to commute by bike. The challenge pits workplace against workplace to see who has the highest percentage of bike commutes during the month. In 2013, over 1,000 workplaces competed with over 10,000 riders biking 1.5 million miles.

Go to the BTA’s Bike Commute Challenge website to register and talk to your coworkers about forming a team!

Bicycle commuter

How the Challenge works:

  1. Register for the challenge and join or start your workplace team.
  2. Log bike trips online during the month of September.
  3. At the end of the month, BTA tallies up the percent of bike commutes and announces the winner on October 10th.

What counts as a “bike commute”?

  • Riding both ways to work by bicycle.
  • Riding one way to work by bicycle (and the other way by any other mode).
  • Riding part way to work by pairing biking with transit, driving or any other mode.

Top things you can do to get ready for the challenge:

  • Have a bike repair kit in your office.
  • Set up a bike buddy system to pair new riders with experienced bike commuters.
  • Help each other determine the best bike route between home and work and how long to allow for the trip.

For more details, see tips 2-5 in our “7 ways to support and encourage your workplace bike commuter” blog post.

Quick Links

Guest post written by Mia Reback, Sustainability at Work intern.

7 ways to support and encourage your workplace bike commuters

From bike parking to bike buddies, our certified businesses are making bike commuting easier.

Portland is one of the best bike cities in the U.S. With over 181 miles of bike lanes and 79 miles of off-street bike paths, Portland is a great city to bike.

Here are 7 of the most common ways our certified businesses are encouraging and supporting bike commuters:

1. Indoor/Covered Bike Parking
Indoor bike parking provides people with a safe place to put their bike, helmet and other gear during the workday. Inside or out, it may be easier than you think to find space for indoor or covered bike parking.

Bike racks at Food Front NW
Many Portland businesses create simple, DIY bike racks like these, using bike hooks and wood (even simple 2x4s). Food Front NW’s bike rack is in their break room along with a bike repair kit and lockers.

Tip: Convert an underused supply closet, room, break room wall, or unused outdoor area into bike parking!

Lensbaby covered bike racks
Covered outdoor bike parking at Lensbaby in Southeast Portland.

Find out how to get free bike racks, sign up for a bike corral through the City, or get tips for creating your own bike rack.For more, read the case study our friends at Bike Portland recently posted about the outdoor bike parking at Green Zebra Grocery and other bike amenities they offer for bike commuters.

2. Bike repair kit
Providing a bike repair kit at work allows bike commuters to take care of maintenance problems like flat tires, small adjustments, or tires needing air.

Tip: Leave your repair kit indoors near bike parking and make sure employees/coworkers know about it. Make the kit available to customers, visitors and clients to encourage more biking.
Bike repair kit list

3. Bike Buddies
A bike buddy – a coworker to commute with for the first few days – is a great way to encourage first time biker commuters. The bike buddy breaks down those initial barriers – “What time should I leave the house? What route do I take? How do I avoid busy roads?”

To get your workplace started with bike buddies, put up a map where employees can mark their bike commutes. New bikers can find a bike commute buddy from the map and connect with their buddy to arrange when and where they’ll meet and ride.

BPS Bike Buddies map
Here at the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), we used Bike Buddies to encourage more people to ride to work for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance’s annual Bike Commute Challenge (see 5 below).

4. Route planning
Bike buddies can also help new cyclists with route planning. Experienced cyclists or members of your office green team can help determine the best route between home and work, and suggest how long to allow for the trip.
Tip: Order free citywide and neighborhood bike maps for your office.
5. Participate in the Bike Commute Challenge
Every September, the Bike Transportation Alliance hosts its Bike Commute Challenge. The Challenge pits workplace against workplace to see who can bike more in the month of September. Participating in the Bike Commute Challenge is a great way to attract new bike commuters and have fun!

Tip: You can sign up now, before the Challenge starts, and encourage others too as well. Then you’re ready to go when September 1st rolls around, and everyone can get credit for their miles starting day one.

PGE Bike Commute Challenge participants
Bike Commute Challenge participants at Portland General Electric pose with their bikes

6. Incentives
Incentives are another great way to encourage people to start biking to work or to bike more often. Here are 3 examples of incentives to get more people to bike commute:

  • Have a raffle! Each person gets a raffle ticket every day they bike to work. Twice a year, draw a winner to receive a free bike tune-up. Or, draw winners more often for smaller prizes, like free lunch or a gift card to a bike shop.
  • Publicly praise people who bike to work and encourage them through small acts of thanks, like homemade cookies provided by the office’s best baker.
  • If your workplace offers subsidized transit passes or subsidizes driving or parking, give an equivalent monetary incentive to people who regularly bike to work. Click here for an additional opportunity to provide bike bucks through the Bicycle Commuter Benefit.

7. Showers, changing rooms and lockers
For some employees, the main barrier to biking to work is wanting to be clean for the workday and needing to wear different clothing while biking than at work.  Providing showers, changing rooms and/or lockers reduces this barrier.

For renters, some office buildings already have changing rooms and lockers. Talk to your building manager about getting access for your employees who bike.

TIP: If your business doesn’t have showers already, work out a deal with a nearby fitness center, community center, or gym to allow bikers, walkers and lunchtime joggers to have access to showers and lockers.

Questions about where to start, or how to implement any of these suggestions? Contact us. We’re happy to help!

Quick links for more bike info:

Bike commuters at Fluid Market Strategies
Happy bike commuters pose for the camera at Fluid Market Strategies.

Guest post written by Mia Reback, Sustainability at Work intern.

Success stories from your peers

Green-minded staff from different organizations around Portland gathered at Sustainability at Work’s third Problem Solved event to share successes and trouble-shoot challenges.

logoWe captured the top tips from attendees, as well as success stories that you may be able to replicate at your own organization.


Kelley Martin, Integral Consulting

  • ZGF Architects swapped their leased vehicles with zipcar memberships.
  • Integral Consulting replaced parking subsidies with subsidized Trimet passes and incentives to bike commuters. This increased sustainable transit and saved the company money!
  • With these strategies, and staff education, Integral Consulting reduced their car miles traveled by 20,000 and increased transit participation by 44%!


  • Fortis Construction removed desk-side trash cans and made sure everyone had a desk-side recycling bin. This made recycling more convenient than trash.
  • Fortis also collects “beyond the curbside” recycling, like extra plastics, to be taken to a recycling depot. Some staff have started doing this at home too, since learning how to at work.
  • Does your organization collect extra recycling to take to a recycling depot, or would you like to start?
  • Integral Consulting discovered they could hire B-Line, a sustainable urban delivery company, to pick up a variety of hard-to-recycle items and deliver them to recycling depots.

Reduce wasteCourtney Norris, Fortis Construction

  • Food containers:
    • ZGF architects encourages staff to sign up for GO Box, a reusable container system for take-out food, by subsidizing membership.
    • Using reusable lunch containers reduces the piles of take-out lunch containers that fill many workplace garbage cans.
  • Paper:
    • Reduce misprints, improved confidentiality and cut paper use by setting up printer “mailboxes.”
    • PGE’s IT staff set up printer mailboxes and saw great results.
    • Get crafty! Use scrap paper to make note pads.
  • Dishware
    • Fill a tote with durable dishware to wash and reuse at company lunches and events.
  • Moving locations?
    • Set a goal of re-using as much as possible in the new space, and think through what that will take.
    • One company did this, and ended up with only a single dumpster of waste.

Quick links from attendees’ suggestions:

  • B-line - Extra recycling pick up by bike.
  • GO Box – reusable take-out food container program.
  • zipcar – sign up for car-sharing at your workplace.
  • Trimet – pre-tax and/or subsidized employee transit passes.

Ready to make your organization more sustainable? Contact us to connect with an advisor or peers!