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Don't throw that away! How to dispose of light bulbs the right way

Chones / Shutterstock
When your light bulbs burn out, where do you put them? Do you chuck them in the trashcan without giving it a second thought? If so, you’re like some other people who assume burnt out light bulbs always belong in the trashcan, or in your recycling bin along with other glass items. But, that’s not necessarily the right way to dispose of light bulbs.

Light bulbs have come a long way from incandescent to fluorescent to LED bulbs; and, with so many different light bulbs available on the market, it can be tough to keep track of which ones you should recycle and which ones you can safely throw away. This brief guide provides information on what to do with your old light bulbs. Read on for more information.

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 trashcan.

If you want to recycle your old incandescent light bulbs, you may have options available to you. For instance, Home Depot has a recycling program, which accepts old incandescent holiday light strings. Ikea also has a recycling program, which accepts “used regular light bulbs.”

How to dispose of CFL and fluorescent light bulbs

Unlike incandescent bulbs, CFL bulbs (or Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs) contain a small amount of mercury. Each bulb contains about four 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. You can take them to any Lowes store, for instance, and there is usually a place to recycle your CFLs near the front entrance. Other home improvement stores and recycling centers in your area may also accept your CFL bulbs.

You may see long, tube-shapes florescent bulbs in your office. Or, you will even see them in closets, older kitchens, or garages. Like CFL bulbs, fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, so you should recycle them.

Before you remove a burnt-out tube, it is wise to turn off the electrical at the circuit for that part of your home to avoid injury. Also, it’s a good idea to wrap your fluorescent bulbs in an old packing material to help prevent them from breaking.

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 trashcan. 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.

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.

Light bulb fruit centerpiece
Light bulb ornaments
Light bulb glass/mosaic art

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
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