Most of us realize how important recycling is, and for the most part Americans do a pretty good job recycling common items like plastic bottles, paper, and aluminum cans. However, there are many categories of recyclable items that most are not recycling on a regular basis. Usually, this is because it can get confusing. When we start thinking about less common items such as electronics or Styrofoam its very likely most are unsure of what is and what is not able to be recycled, or how to recycle these items. One item that often causes confusion and is also found in every room, is light bulbs.
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Can light bulbs be recycled?
There really isn’t a short answer to this question. The confusion stems from the many different types of light bulbs commonly found in our homes and garages. So first we need to understand the different types of light bulbs and be able to recognize which are present in your home or office.
Compact Fluorescent Lamps “CFLs”
Energy efficient bulbs are practically the only thing sold these days, so it is very likely that you have CFL’s used throughout your home to light bedrooms and bathrooms. Energy efficient bulbs are meant to last up to 10 years so it isn’t uncommon to not know exactly how to dispose of them once they do burn out. They do contain a small amount of mercury and therefore should not be placed in your regular trash disposal. This amount of mercury is harmless in the bulb but if the bulb is broken it can leak out and potentially pollute ground water. Actually, several states now require by law that businesses recycle their CFLs, including: California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington.
How to Recycle CFLs
It’s a great idea to recycle your burned out or replaced CFLs, and it isn’t too difficult. Simply place each bulb into a plastic zip lock bag to prevent any mercury from leaking if they happen to break. At this point you have a few options, you can take them to any APOB facility if one is convenient to your location. A hazardous waste collection event in your area will also accept energy efficient light bulbs for recycling. If neither of these are local to you, one of the easiest options is taking your used CFLs to any Home Depot, Ikea, or Lowe’s store in your town.
Incandescent Light Bulbs
These are the light bulbs that preceded the energy efficient ones common now. Federal law brought production of traditional incandescent light bulbs to an end in 2014. These light bulbs do not contain mercury and should be discarded in your regular trash receptacle. They cannot be recycled along with glass as it is cost prohibitive with the small wiring inside them. The fact that they end up in our landfills is just one reason most countries have banned production and moved to the more energy efficient and longer lasting CFL or LED lighting.
Halogen Light bulbs
Halogen bulbs or halogen lamps are a type of incandescent bulb that uses a small amount of halogen gas. They produce more light, and usually last longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. They are commonly used for outdoor lighting, flood lights, stage/production lighting, even headlights for cars. As with traditional incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs should be placed in the regular trash, the heat resistant glass used cannot be recycled with regular glass recycling.
LED stands for light emitting diode and these bulbs are long lasting and energy efficient. These bulbs can last up to 50,000 hours, much longer than incandescent or even CFL bulbs, so it should be a long time between replacing these in and around your home. Of course, eventually they too will need to be replaced.
How to Recycle LED bulbs
Currently, most recycling centers only accept fluorescent tubes and CFL bulbs, as these contain mercury, a precious metal making it valuable. The mercury is also hazardous allowing these bulbs to be classified as universal waste. This means CFL and fluorescent bulbs are accepted at most HHW facilities and Home Depot and Lowe’s. Unfortunately, this is not the case for LED bulbs. Hopefully with the rapid increase in sales of LED bulbs and lighting there will be changes made and more recycling facilities and retailers will begin to accept them.
For now, one option is a mail in program. There are companies that will send you a box to mail in your old LED light bulbs for recycling. They usually accept different types of bulbs, making this a good option if you have several types not easily accepted at a recycling center nearby. They will safety separate the glass and other components and then send to a recycling facility.
If you have old Christmas or string LED lights these can sometimes be accepted at your local Lowe’s or Home Depot, so be sure to check when you are getting ready to replace your decorative lights.
Fluorescent Tube Lights
Fluorescent bulbs or tubes fall into the hazardous waste category since they also contain mercury. They should not be disposed of in your curbside trash. These bulbs are most commonly used for industrial lighting and in commercial buildings. Fluorescent tubes can last up to 15,000 hours making them a common choice for business, classrooms, etc.
How to Recycle Fluorescent Bulbs and Tubes
Many people wonder, can I throw away fluorescent bulbs once they burn out? The answer is no, you definitely should not throw them out. As mentioned, they contain mercury which would be released into the environment if tossed into your regular curb-side trash. Not many retailers collect fluorescent bulbs, but some do, you can try any local Batteries Plus Bulb store located throughout the United States. They also accept and recycle almost any type of light bulb, so you can make one trip and take care of all your old light bulbs at once. Another option is a mail-in-program, they will send you a postage paid box to pack up your bulbs and send in for proper recycling. There is also always the option to utilize your city or areas HHW program, this ensures the toxic elements of your waste is properly dealt with and environmental impact is limited. You can call your local waste management and ask for a drop off location for Household Hazardous Waste items.
Where to Recycle Light Bulbs?
Now that you have a basic understanding of the different types of light bulbs and lamps, you can see that while it may seem complicated it is important to do your homework and dispose of your light bulbs responsibly. When your lamps and lights burn out, choose a long lasting environmentally friendly replacement and properly dispose of the old ones, through a local retail recycling program or a household hazardous waste collection facility.