How to Recycle Light Bulbs

An Overview on Recycling Light Bulbs

You use them without thinking every single day. Electric lights - whether you’re getting ready in the bathroom in the morning or cooking dinner in the kitchen at the end of a busy day - provide illumination for all of our daily activities. Sometimes it feels as if they’re as indispensable as a warm bed or a roof over your head. And while they provide convenience and safety, they can also contribute to environmental challenges, especially since many contain toxic mercury.


Determining what type of light bulb disposal is necessary

There are many types of light bulbs used commonly in household and offices. Knowing which ones you’re using is the first step in knowing how to recycle them:

  • Compact fluorescent (CFL): The spiral lamps that have recently become popular with those looking to save energy for lighting, CFLs are used in place of incandescents and contain a small amount of mercury. They should therefore be recycled properly to prevent mercury contamination.
  • High-pressure sodium vapor: Made for outdoor street and parking lighting, these are popular with businesses and there are some programs for recycling them, though limited.
  • Incandescent:This is the type of light bulb you likely have in your home. They’re made with a thin filament and filled with an inert gas like Argon and are incredibly energy inefficient (up to 90% of the energy they use is converted to heat instead of light). There is currently no market for recycling these bulbs, although some specialized companies will recycled used incandescent holiday lights.
  • Light-emitting diode (LED): The newest kid on the high-efficiency lighting block, LEDs are more efficient than CFLs and are becoming increasingly popular for home lighting, gadgets, and the like.
  • Mercury vapor: Used commonly for parking and farm lighting, these are HID lamps. And because they contain mercury, they too should be recycled.
  • Metal halide: A newer version of mercury vapor high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, these are used for outdoor lighting and some vehicle headlights. These unfortunately are not recyclable.
  • Tubular fluorescent: Often used in overhead lighting, as fluorescent lamps, these contain mercury and therefore should be recycled to recover this toxic chemical.
  • Ultraviolet lamps: Common in tanning salons and air purifiers, ultraviolet lamps are also used for water purification and pest control. Often called “black lights,” these lamps can be designed based on fluorescent, mercury vapor, LED, or incandescent technology and therefore their recyclability will depend on how they’re made.


The basics of safe light bulb recycling

Now that you know whether any given light bulb can and should be recycled, let’s go over the basics of safe light bulb recycling:

  • Reduce incandescent use: Not only are these bulbs much less energy efficient compared to CFLs and LEDs, they also have much shorter lifespans. That means you’ll have to replace them more often, resulting in additional unrecyclable garbage. So phase these out of your home - as one burns out, replace it with a longer-lasting bulb. You’ll have fewer bulb changes to take care of, will save money, and reduce your waste.
  • Evaluate bulb type: As you now know, some bulbs are recyclable, while others are not. Separate those that are recyclable from those that are not. Incandescents and other non-recyclables should be disposed of with your regular rubbish carefully to prevent injury.
  • Protect from breakage: Those bulbs that can be recycled should be packaged up with newspaper or bubble wrap so that they do not break in transit to the recycling center. You don’t want to spill mercury into your home or a retail store, right? If you’re not going to a recycling center for some time (weeks or months), store these bulbs in a safe place where they will be protected for breakage.
  • Deliver to recycling center: Locate a recycling light bulb collection mail-in program or collection site and deliver your spent bulbs to complete the disposal cycle. Our article on fluorescent light bulb recycling will give you all the details on how to safely dispose of these lamps. Pat yourself on the back for protecting the environment from nasty mercury! 


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