How to dispose of lightbulbs

Learn the proper way to trash those burnouts—some of which contain toxic components—to keep your family and the environment safe.

How to dispose of lightbulbs

If you recently set out to upgrade your home with more energy-efficient light bulbs, you’ve likely seen there’s a bigger selection of light bulb varieties available today than ever before, with some designed to last as long as 50,000 hours. Even the most enduring bulb will burn out eventually, however, and need to be tossed—along with those you seek to replace. Before you throw any into the trash, you should know that some popular light bulbs contain toxic components that are hazardous to human health and can negatively impact the environment. Keep reading to learn the how to dispose of light bulbs correctly, be they incandescents, halogens, or just about any other type of light bulb in your home. Now that’s seeing the light!

How to Get Rid of Incandescent Light Bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs, the old standby we relied on for our reading lamps and overhead fixtures since the early 1900s, are slowly being edged out by higher efficiency versions. They typically only burn for 700 to 2,000 hours, and you can still find some lower-wattage incandescent bulbs on store shelves. They contain a wire filament in a thin, sealed glass bulb, but no toxic chemicals, so these bulbs can be safely thrown away in your regular household waste (not recycling, because the tiny wire filaments are too difficult to remove during the glass recycling process). They are fragile, however, and if they break, the sharp glass could puncture a plastic garbage bag, posing a risk of injury to you or to a sanitation worker. Whether yours has burnt out or is phasing out for a more energy-efficient model, be sure to slip a burned-out incandescent bulb into another type of disposable packaging, such as a used cereal box, before putting it in the trash.

How to dispose of lightbulbs

How to Get Rid of Halogen Light Bulbs

Similar to incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs contain wire filaments, which are sealed under pressure in thick, high-silica glass bulbs. They are an advanced type of incandescent bulb and can be used in standard lighting fixtures, designed for both indoor and outdoor use. Halogen bulbs, which last 2,000 to 4,000 hours, can be disposed of in your regular household waste (their fine wires prevent them from being recyclable). While halogen bulbs are less likely to break than incandescent bulbs due to the thicker glass, it’s still wise to place them in another type of disposable packaging before tossing them out.

How to Get Rid of LED Light Bulbs

Quickly becoming the energy-efficient bulb of choice in American homes, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) create light by sending electrons through a semiconductor material, triggering a process known as “electroluminescence,” which is similar to the way a laser works. They not only provide long-lasting illumination of 35,000 to 50,000 hours and use a fraction of the energy their incandescent predecessors do, LED bulbs are also safe to dispose of in your household waste. To date, no national LED recycling regulations or initiatives exist, but if you’d prefer to recycle, contact your local recycling center to see if they take LEDs. You can also search online for an LED recycler, such as HolidayLEDs, which accepts used LED Christmas lights at no charge (except shipping).

Recycling is becoming more popular, and because LEDs do not contain the fine wires that prevent the recycling of incandescent and halogen varieties, you’re likely to see more LED recycling options in the future. Until then, if you can’t find a convenient drop-off spot, rest assured that LEDs will not release harmful toxins into the environment if chucked in your regular trash.

How to Get Rid of Fluorescent Tube Lighting

These long tubes are energy efficient and long-lasting (a typical fluorescent bulb lasts 24,000 to 36,000 hours), making them favorites for workshops and other areas where bright, inexpensive lighting is desired. However, fluorescent tubes contain mercury—an environmental toxin—and should not be thrown out with ordinary household waste. In fact, as of 2018, recycling fluorescent tubes is the law in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington, and more states are bound to follow with these regulations. Fortunately, many home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s, along with other major retailers, offer fluorescent recycling collection stations where consumers can drop off their old tubes free of charge. Visit Earth 911 and enter “fluorescent tubes” and your zip code to find a list of collection sites near you.

Disposing of a broken fluorescent tube requires extra care, since a small amount of mercury vapor escapes when the tube breaks. If you must dispose of a broken fluorescent tube, follow the steps below for the safe clean-up and disposal of CFLs.

How to Get Rid of CFLs

Easily identifiable by their narrow glass tubes, twisted into curlicue shapes, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) fit into standard light fixtures and last 8,000 to 20,000 hours. Like fluorescent tubes, CFLs contain trace bits of mercury and should be recycled, never dumped in the regular trash. Visit Earth 911 and enter “CFLs” and your zip code for locations of local collection centers. You can also find mail-in programs online; they send out disposal kits with a pre-addressed container in which you can safely mail your old CFLs (they run anywhere between $30 and $70, depending on how many CFLs they hold).

CLEAN-UP AND DISPOSAL OF BROKEN CFLs

If you drop a CFL bulb and break it, the United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends the following safe disposal method:

  • Send everyone (including pets) out of the room and air the room out for 10 minutes.
  • Turn off your HVAC system to keep from circulating potentially toxic mercury vapor.
  • Do not vacuum, which could distribute mercury vapor in the room.
  • Use stiff paper, such as an index card to scoop up the broken bits of glass and powder residue, and dispose of it in a plastic bag or a glass jar.
  • Use the sticky side of duct tape to lift any residual tiny bits of glass or powder from the surface.
  • Use disposable wet wipes or damp paper towels to wipe the area clean and place wipes in the plastic bag or glass jar along with the broken glass and used duct tape.
  • Contact your local waste authority or check the Earth 911 to locate a collection station near you.

If your state or community does not regulate the disposal of CFLs, and no recycling center is handy, the EPA suggests putting a used (or broken) CFL in a plastic bag and then putting it in your outside trash can for pickup.

Did you know that lightbulbs are considered hazardous waste? This is because they contain mercury and other chemicals that can cause harm to the environment.

These bulbs should never be thrown in your garbage!

There are many steps involved with disposing of a light bulb, so read on for more information on properly disposing of them.

How to dispose of lightbulbs

Guide to Safely Disposing of Light Bulbs of All Types

Incandescent

Recycling is a great way to dispose of old incandescent light bulbs.

These lamps are different from other hazardous wastes because they contain mercury which can be harmful if leaked into the soil, water, or air, and should not just be thrown away for disposal.

The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) recommendation is to place incandescent light bulbs in a plastic bag, fold the top of the bag over at least three times and pinch it.

Put this ball into a second plastic bag, fold the top over, then go outside and place it in the correctly labeled garbage can.

Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFLs)

There are many unreliable sources on the internet advising people to dispose of CFL bulbs in the trash.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Recycling Coalition have both previously recommended throwing these fluorescent tubes away with other household waste but has since changed their position due to safety concerns.

There are several different ways to dispose of a compact fluorescent lamp. The easiest may be simply taking the bulb, ballast, and tube to your local recycling center for free.

Local laws for this vary, so it’s best to check how your region requires you to dispose of CFLs.

Halogen

Halogen lamps should never be disposed of in the garbage or down the sink; instead, they should always be recycled.

The wisest decision would be to not dispose of the bulb on your own and ask a technician with experience.

Halogen lamps are made up of four parts – an encased quartz glass tube, filament, halogen gas inlet, and oxidizer used for thermal insulation.

Halogen lamps are typically considered hazardous because they can leak liquid vaporized mercury, posing dangers even if left on a countertop in an enclosed garage.

Safe disposal of halogen lamps should be handled by a qualified hauler.

Light Emitting Diode (LED)

LEDs have a very low rate of generating heat energy, and there are no toxic materials in LEDs. So there is no need to use a hazardous waste disposal method for this product.

The law requires businesses and households to recycle used mercury-containing items instead of disposing of them in the trash.

Some states also have requirements for taking care when disposing of them that go beyond what’s required by federal law.

For example; some require that these bulbs be broken before disposal; others ban disposal at landfills.

Suppose your state has no specific recycling requirements for these bulbs. In that case, they must be disposed of in the trash according to your local waste management regulations or follow instructions provided with the bulb.

Fluorescent Tubes

Fluorescent Tubes are made from a combination of glass and metal. They can be recycled through your local recycling plant.

Follow the instructions on your town’s recycling bin for glass if it includes Fluorescent Tubes in the list, or call your municipality to find out how you can recycle them.

Some towns require that fluorescent tube pieces have safety tape at both ends before picking them up, so be sure to do this before you put them out for pickup.

You also want to ensure all the pieces are fully ground by running over them with a vehicle, crushing them first, or breaking them into smaller pieces.

Other ways to Recycling/Reuse Lights bulb

Did you know that there are many other ways to recycle or reuse a light bulb?

There is an abundance of great ideas out there, and they’re all easy to do. Here’s some more information about the different options for recycling your old lights.

    It’s possible to donate them as part of an organization’s fundraiser. Some organizations will even pick up the bulbs from your home for free!
    You can also repurpose them in a new project by using them as a planter or vase. All you need is some plants and water!
    You could also use it in your garden, where it would work well as a birdbath or patio decoration.

1. Do led light bulbs need to be recycled?

LED lights do not need to be recycled. This doesn’t mean that you should throw them away.

It’s always good to recycle anything that can be recycled, and these bulbs can actually still last for years, saving consumers money in the process.

So if you have any old or used bulbs that are ready to be thrown away, put them aside so they can be recycled for your benefit as well as for the environment’s sake! It really doesn’t take much effort.

Just by organizing and packing them correctly, it could mean a massive difference in people’s lives!

2. How to dispose of light bulbs that contain mercury?

The easiest and safest way is to keep the bulb in a sealed bag or container until it’s time for proper disposal.

Put any broken bulbs in a container, put the lid on, label it “broken mercury-containing bulb,” and seal it shut.

Call your municipal solid waste agency for instructions on how to dispose of materials with hazardous waste items.

You can also take them to a nearby recycling station that accepts these items or the facilities
that accept hazardous household waste.

Conclusion

Most Light bulbs are toxic to the environment, and we must dispose of them properly.

Light bulbs often contain mercury which is toxic and can damage the environment if not disposed of properly. It’s also illegal to throw them in the trash or leave them out for city pick up.

The best way to dispose of your light bulbs is at a recycling center or by contacting the manufacturer for disposal instructions.

How to dispose of lightbulbs

With most trash, it’s pretty easy to decide where it goes — food waste can go into the compost, garbage disposal or into the kitchen trash. Glass, paper, cans and most plastics can go into the regular recycling. But what do you do with old light bulbs or batteries? What about unused paint, expired medications or that old TV?

You might be tempted to just toss this stuff in the regular garbage, but you really shouldn’t. Some items, like light bulbs, and even old TVs and appliances, can contain hazardous metals like lead and mercury. Still other common household items, like electronics, should be recycled because they contain precious metals. Here’s how to dispose of some of the most common household items that shouldn’t just go in the trash.

Batteries

Single-use, alkaline batteries were once made with mercury, making them hazardous to throw away, but that’s no longer true. Now, these are safe to throw away, unless you live in California, where recycling is mandatory for all types of batteries. You can use a resource like Earth911 to locate battery recycling in your area, as well as local recycling options for other household items that can’t be thrown away.

Other types of batteries, including button cell batteries, lithium and lithium-ion batteries, nickel-zinc rechargeable batteries, lead acid batteries, nickel-metal hydride batteries, and nickel-cadmium batteries, may contain heavy metals and should be recycled.

If you’re wondering how to dispose of old batteries, you may need to do a little homework. Button cell batteries, such as those found in watches and hearing aids, may need to be mailed back to the manufacturer for recycling. You may be able to recycle the other types through your local waste management center, or at home improvement or office stores, which often supply drop boxes for battery recycling. Remove batteries from electronics and cover the terminals with clear tape before recycling.

Smart Phones, Laptops and Tablets

Smart phones, laptops and tablets contain precious metals and should be recycled to minimize the need to mine these materials anew. Most cell phone carriers run programs that allow you to recycle your old device or donate it to someone in need if it still works — you can hand it over when you upgrade. Electronics stores like Best Buy also accept devices for recycling. Simply remove your SIM card from your phone and wipe any data from your device with a factory reset.

TVs, Microwaves and Other Appliances

In many areas, you’re not allowed to put old TVs and microwaves out with the regular trash. Get rid of old appliances by hiring a junk removal service to come pick them up. You may be able to sell some appliances, like microwaves, for scrap metal. And most cities have a special collection day once or twice a year when residents can dispose of TVs, microwaves, refrigerators, mattresses and other items they can’t usually throw away, either by simply setting them on the curb or taking them to a specific location.

Light Bulbs

The answer to the question of what to do with old light bulbs used to be easy — you could just throw them away. But the newer, energy-efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs contain mercury, so you shouldn’t toss them in the trash. Home stores like Lowes accept these bulbs for recycling, and your local recycling center may also accept them.

Old Paint

If you have paint that you don’t plan to use but is still good, you can donate it to a charity like Habitat for Humanity, or you can contact your local waste management facility to ask about donating it in your area. If you need to throw old latex paint away, mix it with kitty litter until it has solidified, then toss it in the trash and recycle the cans. Oil paint is considered hazardous waste, so contact your local waste management facility for instructions on how to dispose of it.

Expired or Unused Medication

You should dispose of unused or expired medication at a certified disposal site — your pharmacist can point you in the right direction. If you don’t have one nearby, you can dispose of the medication by crushing it up and mixing it with something unpalatable, such as dirt, used cat litter or food waste, and sealing it in a plastic bag before tossing it in the regular trash. If your medication is a controlled substance, however, the FDA recommends flushing it down the toilet if you can’t dispose of it at a certified disposal site or law enforcement takeback center.

Not every household item can be tossed out in the trash when you’re ready to dispose of it. Make sure you’re disposing of appliances, light bulbs, batteries and other household items correctly. Your health, and the health of the environment, could depend on it.

Feb. 12 2021, Updated 4:42 p.m. ET

As it happens, many of the somewhat innocuous items we encounter every day are actually quite toxic in certain situations — even the lights right above our heads. Fluorescent bulbs are a buzzing, commonplace fixture of many stores, offices, and schools, and the questions regarding how to properly dispose of fluorescent bulbs are just as common. Luckily, we’ve managed to track down a few safe and eco-friendly ways of doing so.

How to dispose of lightbulbs

How do fluorescent lights work?

According to Hunker, fluorescent light bulbs work similarly to incandescent bulbs in that they both use electricity to heat up an element inside a glass container full of inert gas. The result in both cases is light, though fluorescent bulbs last much longer and burn much brighter than incandescent ones.

The element inside of fluorescent bulbs contains small amounts of liquid mercury, a very useful though highly toxic metal that reacts with the inert argon gas inside of the bulb to create light. This mercury is what causes the fluorescent bulb’s added brilliance and it’s also what makes them so controversial in terms of disposal.

How to dispose of lightbulbs

Here’s how to dispose of fluorescent bulbs:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that consumers looking to dispose of fluorescent bulbs avail themselves of the recycling programs in their local area. Because of the mercury, the EPA considers fluorescent bulbs to be hazardous waste, which cannot be disposed of through normal means.

Can I throw out my fluorescent bulbs?

You certainly can, but you absolutely should not, for several reasons. First, most sanitation departments are strictly forbidden from taking fluorescent lightbulbs. Putting them out to the curb with the rest of your garbage could spell trouble for you and your sanitation workers. Fluorescent bulbs are very breakable and can shatter into a million pieces if they are not handled correctly. This would not be so bad, if not for the individual components within the bulbs themselves — namely, the mercury.

Releasing that mercury into the environment would be bad. The substance is quite toxic, even debilitating or deadly in some cases, according to the World Health Organization. It’s also not great for plants, soil, or wildlife, so throwing your old fluorescent bulbs out with the regular trash could pose a danger to yourself, your trusty sanitation workers, and the environment.

According to the EPA, the following states specifically prohibit mercury-containing lamps from being discarded into landfills:

  • California
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont
  • Washington

How to dispose of lightbulbs

Can fluorescent bulbs be recycled?

Yes, fluorescent bulbs can be recycled. If handled properly, the glass, metals, and other material components can all be recycled into other products. Of course, you’ll have to find out if there are any recycling or disposal sites in your area first. You can’t just put them out with the cans and bottles. Also, note that some states and local jurisdictions have more stringent collection methods than others.

How to dispose of lightbulbs

Where to recycle fluorescent bulbs:

As with paint, antifreeze, and motor oil, recycling fluorescent bulbs might require a little extra homework. Call or check your municipality’s website for information on recycling fluorescent bulbs. They might provide pickup times and locations for such materials. Many hardware stores and nationwide hardware retailers also offer in-store recycling of hazardous materials, though not every one of these accepts fluorescent bulbs. Even those that do accept them might only take the smaller fluorescent bulbs and not the 4-foot ones.

Home Depot’s website explains that customers can bring their old fluorescent bulbs to the store for free recycling, though it might be a good idea to call and ask if your local store has any restrictions first. If you’re still not sure where to bring your old bulbs, a great online resource is Earth911’s search tool.

Posted: 16th Dec 2020 Author: Ethical Shift

There are many different types of lightbulbs that contain different chemicals and materials. Depending on the contents of the lightbulb they will need to be disposed of differently. If you are using energy-efficient light bulbs you are able to recycle these. Have a look in your local area for recycling sites that will put these bulbs to good use and stop them from going to landfill.

How to Dispose of Incandescent Lightbulbs

Incandescent lightbulbs can be thrown out with the regular rubbish. They don’t contain any chemicals that will cause an issue within the normal waste disposal system. They also can’t be easily recycled due to their construction.

How to Dispose of Halogen Lightbulbs

Much like Incandescent lightbulbs, halogen lightbulbs can be discarded in the general waste. They are unable to be recycled easily so the only option is to send them to landfill.

How to Dispose of CFL Lightbulbs

CFL Lightbulbs can’t be thrown out in the general waste like Halogen and Incandescent lightbulbs. These Fluorescent lightbulbs contain hazardous chemicals such as mercury and lead. These need to be disposed of properly and handled with care.

Due to EU and US law, these bulbs need to be disposed of via a recycling company. It’s also the law that shops that sell these products need to have a recycling area in the store. If you need to dispose of your CFL lightbulb you can simply take it to the store and drop it off in their recycling bin.

If you break one of these lightbulbs in your home, you should shut off all air conditioning and clean up the debris with protection such as a mask and gloves. After doing so take it to your nearest recycling site and dispose of it there. After cleaning up you can safely turn your air conditioning back on.

How to Dispose of LED Lightbulbs

LED lightbulbs can be thrown out in the general waste as they contain no harmful chemicals. With this in mind, you can also recycle LEDs, as LEDs come as separated bulbs within an overall bulb these still working LEDs can be used again. If you want to do your bit for the environment and save these from going to landfill, search in your local area for LED lightbulb recycling.

With so many different types of light bulbs on the market—from incandescent to fluorescent to LED—it can be unclear how to dispose of specific bulbs once they burn out. If you’re throwing all of your bulbs straight into the trash, you could be unknowingly contributing to environmental issues.

The fact is, some bulbs contain hazardous materials, which pollute water and soil in landfills and could cause lasting damage. In some states and local municipalities there are even laws that regulate how certain bulbs must be disposed of.

Luckily, there are entire industries that exist to help the public properly recycle harmful bulbs. All it takes is a little research to know which ones go into the trash, which can or cannot be recycled curbside, and which must be taken to a local drop-off station or facility for processing.

Here is a handy guide, along with additional information on how to dispose of each type of bulb.

Incandescent/Halogen

Because they are free of toxic chemicals, and the energy required to recycle them can exceed the energy saved, standard incandescent and halogen bulbs can be thrown directly into the regular trash. However, you might want to consider wrapping them in paper or other packing material to avoid tearing your trash bags.

In the past, some big box retailers did accept old incandescent and halogen bulbs, but many have stopped their recycling programs. With discussions of phasing out incandescent bulbs taking place in many countries on national and local levels over the past several years, it is not expected that these recycling programs will resume.

A common mistake many people make is assuming that incandescent and halogen bulbs can be placed in the recycling bin alongside other glass items. This is not recommended, as the metal wiring and other components of these bulbs are tough to remove. They could even potentially slow down the sorting activities at recycling facilities, doing more harm than good.

CFL/Fluorescent

CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs contain a very small amount (roughly 4 milligrams) of the toxic metal mercury. But this is enough to cause environmental damage if the mercury seeps into the ground at landfills or enters the water supply. Typically, CFL bulbs are accepted by many major retail chains—keep an eye out for recycling bins in the front of stores. You can also consult websites like Recycleabulb.com to find nearby return centers.

Those long-tube fluorescent bulbs often found in offices also contain mercury—they should be recycled in the same way as CFLs. Before removing an old bulb, carefully wrap it in packing material to avoid breakage.

According to the EPA, if you do break a fluorescent bulb, there are specific protocols you should follow. First off, DO NOT vacuum up the glass unless you have removed all of the mercury from the area. Vacuuming can further spread mercury powder or vapor into the air.

Instead, instruct people and pets to leave the immediate area and air out the room for a good 5 to 10 minutes. Shut off the heating or A/C if it is running. Then, collect all broken material by scooping the glass with stiff paper or cardboard and using sticky tape, like duct tape, to pick up all remaining fragments. Put the used tape in a glass jar or plastic bag and put all materials into a sealable container. Finally, you can bring all of the broken and unbroken material to a nearby recycling center or consumer electronics recycler.

LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs are roughly 90% more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs. They light up using an electrical current that passes through a microchip and illuminates many tiny semiconductor segments, called diodes.

LEDs are free from any harmful chemicals and can be put in the garbage can as a last resort. However, unlike old-school incandescents, there are several components within LED bulbs that are easily recyclable. Again, check a big box retailer and ask if they recycle LEDs. There are even companies that specialize in recycling LED bulbs. One example is HolidayLEDs, which will gladly accept your old holiday lights, and even let you ship them directly to their facilities.

Here’s a list of resources to help you dispose of all of your bulbs in the safest and most environmentally friendly way.

Earth 911 Recycling Search

This detailed recycling database features information on where to recycle everything from CFL bulbs to old cell phones, computers, and more.

Recycle Nation

A recycling database along with eco-friendly articles and news.

EPA CFL Cleanup Protocols

EPA CFL Recycling Information

Product Compliance and Suitability

The product statements contained in this guide are intended for general informational purposes only. Such product statements do not constitute a product recommendation or representation as to the appropriateness, accuracy, completeness, correctness or currentness of the information provided. Information provided in this guide does not replace the use by you of any manufacturer instructions, technical product manual, or other professional resource or adviser available to you. Always read, understand and follow all manufacturer instructions.

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How to dispose of lightbulbs

Most people are in the dark when it comes to lightbulb disposal, with good reason. Nearly every country and region has its own lightbulb disposal and recycling policy, and there are many different types of bulbs, each with their own special requirements. No wonder it’s so hard to keep track of what goes where.

In spite of regional differences, some things hold true no matter where you are. Let’s take a look at the many types of lightbulbs currently in use and the general guidelines that do apply in most places. If you’re looking for local recycling depots or information on specific regulations in your country, skip to the list at the end of this post.

CFLs

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs use much less energy than older styled bulbs, which makes them very popular. Unfortunately, one of the components that make them so energy efficient is mercury. Mercury is hazardous and must not be thrown away in your regular garbage because toxins seep into landfill groundwater and make their way into our drinking supply. The good news is that the mercury, glass and metal components of a CFL bulb can all be recycled and reused if processed correctly. Recycling instructions differ from place to place, so check with your local recycling and waste collection offices (see the list of depots at the bottom of this post).

Due to their mercury content, these bulbs can be hazardous, especially if you have children or pets in the house. If you must clean up a broken CFL bulb, follow the detailed instructions on the US EPA website. Make sure the broken pieces are wrapped carefully, and check with your local waste collection agency for proper disposal instructions. Again, because these bulbs contain mercury, they should not be tossed out with your regular trash unless your municipality specifically tells you to do so.

Incandescents

Incandescent bulbs and lamps can be tossed into the trash. If a bulb is broken, wrap it first in paper or plastic before placing it in your trash bin. This prevents broken edges from cutting through your garbage bag and creating a mess, and it helps protect you and your waste hauler from accidental injury.

If the bulbs are intact and you have a creative streak, you can also try upcycling them. Incandescent light bulbs can be turned into Christmas ornaments, little vases for small plants or mini lamps – you can find thousands of fun ideas on Pinterest alone. However, make sure you take proper safety precautions before trying out any of these DIY projects. Preparing an incandescent bulb for crafting can be tricky, so follow a guide to hollowing out a bulb.

LEDs

Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs do not contain mercury but are made with other hazardous substances such as lead and arsenic. Many communities will not accept these bulbs in their recycling program, which means most people throw their burnt out bulbs in the trash, by default. Unfortunately, this means lead and arsenic end up in the landfill and, inevitably, back in the water stream. Check with your local recycling center and ask if they accept LEDs as part of their special collection services.

Halogen bulbs

Halogen bulbs contain halogen gas, which means they are not easily recycled, and many communities recommend you throw these bulbs in the trash. If this is the case in your city or town, make sure you put the used bulb back into its carton or container or wrap the bulb to prevent it from shattering. To keep these bulbs out of your landfill, ask your local recycling center if they have a special collection policy for halogens.

Fluorescent tubes

Fluorescent tubes contain mercury which makes them hazardous and difficult to recycle. Handling fluorescent tubes can be dangerous, too, as they are long and bulky and easy to break. Fluorescent tubes are considered to be universal (i.e. hazardous) waste and are not accepted by curbside collection because their fragility and potentially toxic components make them harmful to the environment and sanitation workers. However, many recycling centers will accept fluorescent tubes for processing through special programs, so be sure to check with your local depots for collection times and procedures.

Drop Off Depots (Specific to Country)

Canada

Aside from regular municipal recycling centers, many retailers within Canada have recycling programs that accept burnt out bulbs. To take advantage of these services, visit these (or similar) retail sites and search for a location near you. Contact your local store and ask what in-store recycling services they provide:

If none of these retailers have stores in your area, or if your local site does not accept bulbs, visit LightRecycle for other options.

United States

In addition to your regular municipal collection services, many retailers and organizations in the U.S. accept burnt out bulbs. Search the following retailers and organizations to find a location near you, and call to inquire about their bulb collection options:

If you do not have these retailers near you, the Earth 911 website has a search engine to help you find other disposal depots in your area.

Australia

Most energy efficient bulbs are accepted at major recycling centers. Residents can find their closest recycling center by visiting Recycling Near You.

To locate recycling centers in your area, search on Recolight.

New Zealand

You can find out more about lightbulb disposal and recycling in New Zealand here.

Using the What goes where? search tool for lightbulb disposal

For city specific information regarding the proper lightbulb disposal visit the Recycle Coach homepage and type in the city or municipality that you live in. If your municipality is signed up, you will be able to use the What goes where? search tool to find out exactly where you can drop off lightbulbs in your community. If your municipality is not signed up, be sure to register for updates that will let you know when the tool becomes available for your area.

How you dispose of a light bulb depends on which kind of light bulb you have and whether the bulb comes from your home or from a business or property that you manage.

Hazardous Waste: Do not place in any carts, bins or dumpsters

How to dispose of lightbulbs

Compact fluorescent lights (CFL), fluorescent tubes, high-intensity-discharge (HID) bulbs, and neon signs contain mercury, which is harmful to human health and the environment, even in very small quantities. Although Light Emitting Diode (LED) light bulbs and tubes do not contain mercury, many LED bulbs contain other toxic metals which are also harmful in very small quantities and require separate disposal not in any of your three bins. SFE recommends handling all LED light bulbs as a hazardous waste using the same programs described below for fluorescent tubes and bulbs.

FROM YOUR HOME: San Francisco residents can visit a drop-off location near you (many hardware stores accept) or request a free household hazardous waste pick-up from Recology.

FROM YOUR BUSINESS OR PROPERTY YOU MANAGE: There are additional requirements for disposal of hazardous waste lights used in a business or in the common areas of a multi-family or commercial property. See our Factsheet for Businesses (PDF) to learn more about proper handling, storage, and a range of disposal options.

Trash: San Francisco residents and businesses can put these types of lights in the black landfill bin

How to dispose of lightbulbs

Incandescent bulbs and halogen bulbs do not contain mercury, so San Francisco residents, businesses, and property managers can put them in the black landfill bin.

If you’re the kind of person who always strives to make eco-friendly choices in life (and if you’re reading our blog, you probably are!), then you know how difficult and overwhelming recycling can be, especially when it comes to certain items.

How to dispose of lightbulbs

One of the most common and perplexing recycling questions is how light bulbs should be recycled. Unfortunately there is no simple answer.

Because there are so many different types of light bulbs on the market, the answer is different for each type. At this point you might be worried about becoming even more confused about light bulb disposal, but don’t fret.

After reading our guide on light bulb recycling, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to properly recycle this common household item.

Incandescent Bulbs

How to dispose of lightbulbs

When most people imagine a light bulb, they picture an incandescent light bulb. It’s the kind Edison invented (or at least pioneered), the kind that appears above a cartoon character’s head when they have a brilliant idea — you get the picture. While prized for their soft, natural light, incandescents are also the least eco-friendly kind of bulb. They are energy-inefficient and don’t last nearly as long as the other kinds of light bulbs on this list.

Recycling incandescent bulbs is not as easy as putting them in your bin and bringing them curbside on recycling day. Because the melting point of their glass is different from other kinds of recyclable glass, they could ruin an entire batch of normal curbside recycling and even damage a recycling plant’s machinery.

Instead of throwing them in with your cardboard and plastic, you need to bring them to a special recycling center or drop-off location. Enter your zip code on Earth911.com to see places near you that recycle this type of bulb. In your search, you may even find programs like Lampmaster Recycling Services that allow you to recycle light bulbs through a mail-back program. You can also consider TerraCycle for recycling any type of light bulb.

If you’re unable to visit one of these locations or mail your incandescent bulbs to a recycling service, you can safely dispose of them in the trash alongside the rest of your household waste, as they do not contain any toxic chemicals.

Just be sure to put them into some kind of container. If they shatter, they could puncture the garbage bag and hurt someone.

Halogen Bulbs

How to dispose of lightbulbs

A halogen bulb is a type of incandescent bulb that operates with greater efficiency than the standard incandescent model. While concerns over fire safety and environmental impact have led to halogens falling out of favor and even being banned in some countries, they are still widely installed in applications such as floodlights and car headlamps.

Because halogens are a subset of incandescents, the instructions for recycling them are the same as above. Find a local recycling center that takes halogen light bulbs and bring them there, or mail them to a recycling program. If neither option is available to you, they can be safely disposed of in the trash.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

How to dispose of lightbulbs

When it comes to eco-friendliness, fluorescent light bulbs massively outperform incandescents. A compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) uses significantly less energy than a traditional bulb. CFLs also last up to 10 times longer, meaning they produce a lot less waste than other bulbs.

There is, however, one environmental issue with fluorescents: they contain very small amounts of mercury, a toxic chemical that can cause major health issues to people who are exposed. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are around four milligrams of mercury sealed within the glass tubing of CFLs. However, this is an extremely small amount compared to older thermometers, which contain approximately 500 milligrams of mercury. You would need over 100 CFL bulbs to match the amount of mercury in one of these thermometers.

Although no mercury is released when the CFLs are in use, mercury vapor can escape when a CFL is broken. Therefore, it’s absolutely important to recycle mercury-containing CFLs at centers capable of handling them instead of disposing of them in the regular trash can or household recycling.

Major retailers such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and IKEA often have drop-off centers where you can bring your fluorescent bulbs. Do a search on Earth911.com to find a nearby location of one of these stores or another CFL recycling center that recycles fluorescents. These bulb recycling centers accept common household CFLs along with fluorescent lamps and the long fluorescent tubes you might find in an office or school.

LED Bulbs

How to dispose of lightbulbs

Using 75% less energy and lasting 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are the most energy-efficient lighting choice on the market. Their upfront cost may be a bit more than other light sources, but they’ll save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the years because they’re so efficient and long-lasting. They also pose almost no fire risk because they emit much less heat than other bulbs.

So how do you recycle these hi-tech gizmos once they’ve finally given out? If you need to dispose of LED Christmas lights, several recycling centers — including Home Depot — will take them: click here for a list.

But when it comes to other sorts of LEDs, your options are more limited. You can call local recycling centers or TerraCycle to ask, but if you don’t have any luck, you may have to mail your light bulbs to a provider called Veolia, which appears to be the only provider that currently takes all manner of LED lights.

You may be wondering about the impact of throwing LEDs into the trash. While it is legal and the EPA considers it safe to dispose of them in landfills, a 2011 study found that LEDs may contain unsafe levels of lead, arsenic and other hazardous substances.

The jury is still out on the safety of LEDs, so the choice is up to you. Thankfully, LED bulbs last so long, there might be more research and more recycling options by the time you need to dispose of yours!

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