How to dispose of light bulbs

Before you throw away your old light bulbs in the trash, you should know that these items are recyclable. Disposing of old light bulbs by throwing them away isn’t ideal since glass can break and tear the garbage bag, and a damaged light bulb could release gas like argon, nitrogen, or helium.

We’ve put together a guide to help you dispose of different types of light bulbs safely and recycle these items when you can.

How to dispose of incandescent light bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs typically do not contain toxic chemicals, so you can throw them away with your regular trash. You do, however, need to be careful of glass shards, just as would when throwing away any other glass objects. It may be a good idea to surround your old incandescent bulbs in plastic or other old packaging materials prior to putting them in your trash can.

If you want to recycle your old incandescent light bulbs, you may have options available. Search your area for any other places that accept incandescent light bulbs. This can sometimes be challenging, since incandescent light materials are difficult to recycle and the energy it requires is often not worthwhile in the long run. Brands that once recycled incandescents, like Home Depot and Ikea, are less likely to accept these bulbs today.

It may be tempting to put incandescent (or halogen, which we mention below) bulbs in your recycling like you do with other glass. Don’t do this! The metal wire and other components in bulbs is very difficult to remove, and recycling centers can’t usually do it. Put them in the normal trash instead.

How to dispose of CFL and fluorescent light bulbs

Unlike incandescent bulbs, CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) bulbs contain a small amount of mercury — about 4 milligrams of the toxic metal. Although that is only a fraction of the amount of mercury in those old-school thermometers, broken CFL bulbs can be damaging to the environment if they enter landfills or the water supply.

To dispose of your CFL bulbs properly, recycle them. Home improvement stores like Lowes and Home Depot usually accept CFL bulbs: Look for bins to deposit these bulbs at the front of the store. There are also organizations and websites like Recycleabulb.com that have return centers located in cities around the country that will happily take your old CFLs.

You may see long, tube-shaped florescent bulbs in your home or office. Like CFL bulbs, fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so you should recycle them carefully. Before you remove a burnt-out tube, it is wise to turn off the electricity at the circuit for that part of your home to avoid injury. Also, it’s a good idea to wrap your fluorescent bulbs in old packing material to help prevent them from breaking if you need to transport them.

If you accidentally break a CFL, stay calm! Unless you roll around in the glass shards, you should be fine with a few simple steps. Stay away from the area and open a window or door to let some air in. Leave the room for about 15 minutes to let the air circulate, and shut off your HVAC system if it’s turned on. You can then use cardboard, sticky tape, damp paper towels, and other items to clean up all the broken glass. Do not vacuum or sweep. The EPA has a full list of instructions here.

How to dispose of LED light bulbs

Light-emitting diode, or LED, light bulbs are about 90 percent more efficient than incandescent bulbs. The electrical current passes through a microchip, which lights up tiny LEDs.

LEDs do not contain hazardous chemicals, so it is safe to throw them away in the trash can. However, some of the components in LED bulbs may be recyclable. So, it’s a good idea to contact your recycling company to see if they will accept your LEDs. Places like Home Depot usually accept LED Christmas lights too, while companies like HolidayLEDs and other recycling sites allow you to ship LEDs directly to them.

How to dispose of halogen light bulbs

You often see halogen bulbs outside, where people use them as floodlights. Halogen light bulbs are a more advanced form of incandescent bulbs. They are stronger and they are designed to withstand higher pressure than incandescent bulbs. You can safely dispose of halogen bulbs along with your regular household trash, or contact your local recycling center to see if they accept halogen bulbs.

How to repurpose old light bulbs

You can use old bulbs to make a variety of art projects. You can paint your light bulbs to make holiday ornaments, wrap them in twine or yarn to create fruit for a centerpiece, or you can break them into pieces and create mosaic art projects. Here are a few other cool light bulb art project ideas we’ve seen:

  • Snow globes
  • Flower vases
  • Oil lamps
  • Hanging wall decorations
  • Spiders or glass animal figurines

Know your local laws and recycling options

No matter what kind of bulbs you are recycling, always look up recycling options for your city and state. They should both have recycling pages that instruct you on how bulbs should be recycled in your area. Many of them will have useful information about recycling centers and drop-off points you can use when making your plans. They may also advise you on how to pack or throw away bulbs properly. Rules can vary greatly from state to state and even between cities, so it’s important to take a look.

It’s also important to know your state’s overall regulations regarding light bulbs and what can be used. An excellent example is California’s light bulb regulation that now bans the sale of incandescent and halogen lights bulbs. Residents will have to replace older bulbs with different versions as they burn out, which can raise new disposal needs.

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