by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

Since I began using florescent light-bulbs in 2004, I have broken a grand total of two.  Neither time did I carry out the steps outlined by the EPA; in fact, I didn't even know there were special instructions for doing so.  Both times I simply swept them up, vacuumed the area, and put the broken bulb in an outside container.  Given that I'm still around and not crazy, I figure that such a quick, clear-minded, and sensible approach is more than enough for safe disposal.   

That's my instinct too. But is it correct? I have no idea. She continues:

Having said that, as more and more people begin to use them, it is inevitable that more and more irresponsible people will use them, eventually putting children and pets at risk of mercury exposure.  I would rather such people be so spooked by arduous EPA clean-up suggestions that they exercise caution, than think it's just the same as any old regular lightbulb and leave it lying on the floor.

I'd rather just be told the truth, whatever it is.

Another reader writes:

Carry the thought one step further. How many people actually recycle these bulbs as instructed. How many just go into the trash. I would wager that the lion's share end up in landfills.

Yes, of course. But does anyone doubt this? In other words, I hope that this isn't a net environmental minus if people just throw used bulbs away, because people are definitely going to do that.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.