Recycling Question: "Is it okay to throw burned out fluorescent bulbs out with the trash? I understand there's some mercury in them: if there's a cheap alternative that ensures the mercury won't enter the food system, I'd rather do that."
My answer: You ask a very good question. There is a tiny (I mean really small amount) bit of mercury in each of these new fluorescent bulbs, but they should not go into the trash or the Monroe County recycling system. Yet, you should still replace your present incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent blubs because they are so much more energy efficient that some countries, including Australia, are now going to ban incandescent bulbs.
Here's what the Monroe County website says: "If discarded from a household, call 753-7600 (option 3) to set up an appointment for drop-off at the Monroe County HHW Facility. Please purchase fluorescent tubes with green ends—they have reduced mercury in them." If you need more information about what should and should not go into the Monroe County recycling system, go to the Monroe County Recycling page: Residential Recycling http://www.monroecounty.gov/des-residentialrecycling.php and check out the document: Material the curbside Recycling Program Does Not Include: http://www.monroecounty.gov/File/Non-Blue%20Box%20Program%20Materials.pdf
I would suggest that you wait until you get several (these bulbs last a long time, seven years, I've heard) and put them someplace until you have enough to make it worthwhile to call. However, by the time your florescent blubs burn out, Monroe County, a new company, or a local group of some kind will have developed a program for household residents to easily dispose of these bulbs properly. Many environmental groups, government, and industry are aware of the mercury problem and I'm sure it will be address. Please remember that the amount in any one bulb is vanishingly small and the bulbs last a long time, so the solution is coming.