Approximately 90 per cent of compact fluorescent light bulbs are being tossed in the trash, potentially contaminating the environment with mercury, CTV Toronto has learned.

According to the Recycling Council of Ontario, most consumers are not safely disposing the energy-efficient bulbs that contain approximately five milligrams of mercury each. The heavy metal has been shown to cause brain damage if inhaled or ingested.

"I don't think most consumers know that there's potentially hazardous material inside a bulb," Jo-Anne St. Godard, the executive director of the recycling council, told CTV Toronto on Tuesday.

The lack of awareness means more than seven million curly light bulbs and approximately nine million fluorescent tubes end up in landfills. St. Godard says the mercury inside those used lights eventually contaminate the environment when it's released into the land or air.

"The release might be instant if it's in the form of vapour. It could (also) be released over time if it goes into a hazardous landfill and takes some time for the bulb to break down," she said.

The council says it wants the Ontario government to launch an awareness and education campaign about the lightbulbs. It says they also want the bulb to be banned in landfills.

In Toronto, the energy-efficient bulbs and fluorescent tubes can be disposed of at drop-off depots that take household hazardous waste. They are also accepted at most RONA, Canadian Tire and Ikea locations across Ontario.

What to do with if you accidentally break a CFL bulb or fluorescent tube?

  • Ventilate: Open windows and doors for approximately 10 minutes
  • Leave the room
  • Turn off the ventilation
  • Carefully scoop up the remains and avoid contact with the broken lightbulb

With a report from CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss