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Light Bulb Recycling: A Complete Guide

Average US home has between 50 and 100 light bulb sockets. Think about all the bulbs you use in a year — Incandescent, fluorescent, halogens, and most recently, LEDs.

Light bulbs have undergone a lot of innovation in recent years.

But, how to dispose of bulbs once they stop working?

I admit I didn’t pay much attention to light bulb disposal. Then I discovered some light bulbs, such as CFLs, contain mercury and metallic salts, which are a threat to your health and the environment, so it’s important to get rid of bulbs responsibly.

Today, I’ll talk about my light bulb recycling. I’ll explain the process, why it’s important, and also how you can upcycle your used bulbs.

Can You Recycle Light Bulbs?

Yes, you can recycle light bulbs. All kinds of light bulbs are recyclable

However, not all of them can be recycled by curbside recycling services as some of them are considered hazardous waste. 

CFL and incandescent light bulbs are among the most hazardous as they contain mercury and argon. If you were to throw these light bulbs in the trash, they could leach harmful chemicals into the soil and groundwater.

That’s why these bulbs have to be recycled in a specialized facility.

When light bulbs are recycled, they are separated into different materials, such as plastic, glass, metal, and mercury. These materials can be used to make new things, such as countertops or even new light bulbs.

How To Recycle Light Bulbs?

Here’s a complete guide on how to recycle light bulbs according to their type.

Incandescent Light Bulbs

Incandescent bulbs are made of a glass enclosure that has a filament usually made of tungsten. Tungsten is a metal with a high melting point. Once you turn on the incandescent light bulb, a current goes through the filament, heating it, so it becomes white-hot and produces light.

These bulbs usually work well and have a low manufacturing cost, so they are among the most popular. Apart from households, they are often used in car headlamps and flashlights. 

Incandescent light bulbs are the least expensive. However, they have the worst energy efficiency of all the bulbs in use.

As of January 1, 2020, the California Energy Commission banned all bulbs that don’t meet the 45 lumens per watt standard— which is almost all incandescent bulbs. 

Incandescent Light Bulb Recycling

As a result, incandescent light bulbs aren’t as common nowadays. 

These bulbs can be thrown in the regular trash, but you should surround them with plastic or packaging material, so you or the workers handling the trash don’t get cut.

Incandescent bulbs are difficult to recycle because they have small amounts of metal and glass that are difficult to separate. Many recyclers won’t even accept them. The best way to recycle incandescent bulbs is to find recycling programs that accept these bulbs. You can always ask a recycling facility near you or send them by mail to a facility located farther away.

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Note: Don’t place these bulbs with your other recycling, as you would do with glass. The metal wire and other parts are difficult to remove, and recycling centers refuse to do it. If you can’t find a recycling center to accept them, place them in normal trash instead.

Halogen Light Bulbs

Halogen light bulbs are often used outside as floodlights because they are small and lightweight. They also have a higher luminosity compared to incandescent bulbs in the same watt range. These are more advanced than incandescent bulbs, as they are stronger and can withstand more pressure. 

They are mostly made of glass. However, you shouldn’t place them in your glass recycling bin because they have wires, and the glass they are made of is quartz.

Quartz glass melts at a different temperature than bottles and jars, so putting a halogen bulb with regular glass recycling could ruin the whole batch of glass recyclables.

Many municipalities recommend placing halogen bulbs in regular household trash instead of recycling them.

Halogen Light Bulb Recycling

If you throw them in with regular trash, you should wrap them in a carton or a container to prevent from shattering.

You can search online “light bulb recycling near me” to check if there’s a recycling center that will accept these bulbs. Or, you can use mail-in programs, as with incandescent bulbs.

You can also check Ikea and Home Depot light bulb recycling as these stores have light bulb recycling programs.

Fluorescent Light Bulbs and CFLs

Compact fluorescent bulbs come in various shapes and colors. They are popular because they use less energy than incandescent bulbs, and you can commonly find them in schools, businesses, and hospitals. They have a tube with mercury and argon through which electricity goes and emits light.

CFL (Compact Fluorescent Light) bulbs have 4 mg of mercury on average. In case they get broken, they can damage the environment and cause harm to the animals and people.

For example, if they are sent to a landfill, they can leach underground and pollute the water supply. That’s why it’s crucial to recycle fluorescent bulbs and CFLs.

If your CFL gets broken, you should open a window or a door to let in the air. Leave the room for about 15 minutes and turn off the HVAC system. Then use a sticky tape or damp paper towels to pick up the broken glass.

CFL Light Bulb Recycling

Don’t vacuum or sweep the area.

Fluorescent bulb disposal should be done responsibly, and you shouldn’t throw them in the regular trash. In fact, some municipalities even have laws forbidding this, which means you should recycle fluorescent tubes. 

You can go to stores such as Lowes and Home Depot and ask if they accept CFL bulbs. These stores usually have bins at the front where you can drop off the bulbs. 

Once these bulbs are recycled, the materials such as glass and metal can be reused to make new products. A recycling facility uses machines to extract mercury and break down glass and aluminum fixtures. The recycler can reuse mercury in new bulbs or make other items with mercury, such as thermostats. The glass is also recycled, for example, to make concrete, and aluminum goes to scrap metal.

Fluorescent and CFL bulb recycling is the best option because it prevents the release of toxic materials into the environment, and there’s less waste sent to the landfills.

LED Light Bulbs

LED stands for light-emitting diodes. These bulbs are about 90% more efficient than incandescent bulbs and can last for up to 50,000 hours, which is 30 times longer than incandescent bulbs and 5 times longer than CFLs. 

LED bulbs have a microchip through which electrical current passes and lights up LEDs. These bulbs are safe to use because they don’t get hot to the touch. They have a heat sink that absorbs any heat that LEDs produce.

Disposal of LED light bulbs is easier and safer compared to incandescent and halogen bulbs because they don’t have any hazardous chemicals. You can even throw them in the trash can. However, LED light bulb recycling is the better option. 

LED bulbs have parts that can be recycled.

LED Light Bulb Recycling

The best way to recycle them is to contact your recycling company and check if they will accept LED bulbs. Also, you can recycle them in some stores.

For example, Home Depot accepts LED Christmas lights, while HolidayLEDs lets you ship LED bulbs directly to them. You can also check Ikea and Lowes light bulb recycling. These stores have recycling bins, so it’s easy to drop off old LEDs. 

If you aren’t sure how to dispose of LED bulbs, you can contact your local waste management organization to check if they accept LED lights. 

Here’s what the LED recycling process looks like: the bulb first goes through a shredder, so it’s broken into pieces. Then glass and metal parts are processed through separators or magnetic sorters. The recyclers are always looking for metal parts as these are the most valuable and can be reused.

Overall, LED bulbs are the most eco-friendly option. This is because they have a long lifespan, high energy efficiency, no hazardous chemicals, and recycling parts.

Benefits of Recycling Light Bulbs

There are many benefits to recycling light bulbs:

  • Keep harmful chemicals out of the environment — If you send a CFL bulb into the landfill, the mercury can leach into the waterway and get to the ocean, where it’s converted to highly toxic methylmercury. This toxic substance ends up in the fish that we eat. But, if you recycle the bulbs, the mercury can be safely reused. Also, LED bulbs can contain copper, nickel, and lead, all of which are also hazardous, so recycling is the best way to get rid of them.
  • Materials can be reused — When you recycle CFLs and other bulbs, the materials they are made of can be reused for other bulbs or other items. These materials include glass, metal, nickel, copper, plastic, lead, and even mercury. Moreover, these are non-renewable resources, and we should save them every chance we get. These materials are needed for electronic goods, so we’ll increasingly rely on recycling to provide them in the future.
  • Save money — This is especially significant if you run a business. You can get reduced disposal costs or even lower equipment costs when you recycle. 
  • It’s easy — Recycling is easy, and almost all parts of fluorescent bulbs can be recycled. All you need to do is make a phone call or do a quick Google search to set up a light bulb recycling program or find a recycler near you.
  • Follow the laws  It’s illegal in some states to throw light bulbs with regular household waste. This could also be the case in your area. You should check local jurisdiction regulations and recycle light bulbs to avoid getting in trouble.
  • Show commitment to preserving the environment  Finally, you’ll feel good if you recycle. This is even more important if you’re a business. People are increasingly keeping an eye on the environmental practices of the businesses they engage with, and recycling is one of the easiest ways to show you’re environmentally responsible. Some recyclers will even give you a certificate you can hang to show your commitment to preserving the environment.
Benefits of Light Bulb Recycling

Where to Recycle Light Bulbs

Apart from knowing how to dispose of light bulbs, you should know locations for light bulb disposal.

For example, some states, such as Maine and California, prohibit throwing bulbs into household garbage. That’s why you should check where you can recycle bulbs in your local municipality.

Does your municipality have recycling pages with guidance on how to dispose of different items?

If yes, then you should check what they say about lightbulb recycling in your area. Here you can find info about recycling centers and drop-off places. You may even find instructions on how to pack the bulbs before throwing them away.

You can also recycle bulbs at hardware or household stores such as Home Depot, Ikea, and Lowe’s. Some of these even accept CFLs (but often not fluorescent tubes).

Finally, you can use our Green Directory to find a light bulb disposal facility nearest to your ZIP code.

green directory

In the “search for” bar, input light bulbs. Be as specific as you can. For example, if you have LED, make sure to type in LED light bulbs. In the “location,” you can type the address or a zipcode in which you want to recycle bulbs. That’s it. Press search, and you’ll get dozens of results in seconds.

Pro Tip: You can choose how far the recycling center is from your location — from 5 to 100 miles from your location.

Understanding the Laws And Recycling Options

Regulations regarding the environment and public health protection are changing all the time as we become aware that certain items can’t be safely thrown into landfills. These items are called hazardous waste, and this is the case with some light bulbs as well. 

How do you know if a light bulb can be thrown in the trash or not? According to The Department of Toxic Substances Control, unless you’re sure an item isn’t hazardous, you should recycle it as hazardous waste and not throw it in the regular trash.

You should also check local recycling laws before recycling. California banned sales of bulbs that don’t have 45 lumens per watt, which mostly refers to incandescent bulbs.

Moreover, California has strict recycling laws which encompass light bulbs. It’s illegal to throw light bulbs in regular trash in CA. All fluorescent lamps and tubes have to be recycled. You can take them to a hazardous waste disposal facility, a waste handler, or an authorized recycling facility.

Apart from California, several other states explicitly layout light bulb recycling rules:

  • Maine — Bulbs and lamps containing mercury can’t be disposed of in the trash, and the manufacturers need to fund a collection and recycling system.
  • Massachusetts — Households, and businesses, including schools and government agencies, aren’t allowed to send bulbs containing mercury to landfills and incinerators.
  • Vermont — Prohibits disposal of bulbs with mercury in the trash. Manufacturers need to fund and operate a collection and recycling system.
  • Washington — All bulbs containing mercury have to be recycled. A collection and recycling program is funded by an environmental handling charge collected at the retail light bulb sale site.
  • Minnesota — Recycling fluorescent bulbs is obligatory.
  • New Hampshire — Recycling fluorescence bulbs is obligatory, and it’s prohibited to throw them in the trash.

How to Upcycle Old Light Bulbs

If you don’t want to deal with state and municipality regulations, a great solution is to upcycle the bulbs. Make sure there aren’t any harmful chemicals before upcycling your bulbs.

There’s an infinite number of ways in which you can reuse light bulbs. Plus, this is a good way to save Earth’s resources and show your creativity.

You can use materials such as a marker, colored sand, glitter, acrylic paint, and more to embellish the bulb. Then, you can turn the light bulb into one of these:

  • Fill with soil and make a terrarium
  • Use as cute tiny vases 
  • Planters for spring flowers
  • Turn it into a kerosene lamp
  • Paint and use as a Christmas ornament
  • Make a snow globe
  • Turn into hanging wall decorations

These are only some ideas to get your creative juices flowing. Let your imagination run free, and you’ll be shocked with what you can create with items you have lying around your home.

FAQ

Can you recycle light bulbs at Home Depot?

Yes, you can recycle compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) at Home Depot, along with batteries and other electronics. Incandescent and halogen bulbs are safe to trash, but for fluorescent tubes, in some states, you need to find a recycler that accepts them.

Can I put light bulbs in the recycling bin?

No, you can’t put light bulbs of any kind in the recycling bin because they can’t be recycled together with bottles and jars. Dispose of it either with the rest of the waste or through a specialized recycling program.

Can you recycle light bulbs at Lowe’s?

Yes, you can recycle light bulbs at Lowe’s, but only the CFL ones. Incandescent, halogen, high-intensity discharge (HID) lights, and fluorescent tubes can't be recycled at Lowe's.

Do I need to recycle LED bulbs?

No, you don't necessarily need to recycle LED bulbs. You can, but you’re not required to do so. They don't contain hazardous materials so they are safe to throw into the black landfill bin. Still, you can ask how to dispose of light bulbs with your municipal waste company.

How do I dispose of 4-foot fluorescent bulbs?

You can dispose of 4-foot fluorescent bulbs as universal waste in most states. Seven states, including Maine and California, treat them as hazardous waste and require you to recycle them due to the mercury content. If you need to transport long fluorescent tubes to a recycling facility, wrap them in old packing material to prevent them from breaking.

Does Best Buy recycle light bulbs?

No, Best Buy doesn’t recycle light bulbs of any kind. If you need to recycle compact fluorescents, take them to the nearest Home Depot, Lowe’s, or find the nearest recycler through our Green Directory service.

Light Bulb Recycling: Final Thoughts

Light bulbs may be small, but their impact on the environment is in no way negligible — from filling the landfills to leaching harmful chemicals, polluting the environment and endangering our health.

There are different kinds of bulbs, some of which are a green option, such as the LED lights, and some which are very polluting, such as the CFLs. Handle them with care, and make sure to recycle responsibly. Moreover, check if your municipality has laws regarding light bulb recycling to avoid getting in trouble.

Finally,  use our Green Directory to find a light bulb recycling facility near you in seconds.

Marina is passionate about sustainability and works to help ensure our planet stays as our home for a long time. She takes part in environmental conservation by recycling and not buying single-use plastic. When not writing, she can be found with her nose stuck in a book or trying out new baking recipes.


9 Comments on “Light Bulb Recycling: A Complete Guide

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  7. Reading through all that, it would really seem that light fixtures are pretty complicated in terms of recyclability and how they are actually manufactured in the first place. It makes me think that maybe it is time to look into a new form of fixtures that would revolutionize our homes, while being safe for the environment.

      This is complicated, but I’d say LEDs are the answer considering all the factors:

      Let’s be honest, many people don’t recycle, and it’s not really helping anyways*, BUT: from what I’ve read, LEDs (on the whole) are more efficient overall.

      So Emma: go with the LEDs if you can.

      *The stuff in your recycle bin that the city picks up? It likely winds up in the landfill anyway. There’s no value in it.

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