Lightbulb disposal 101
September 16, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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