Light Bulb Recycling: A Complete Guide
Incandescent bulbs, fluorescent bulbs, halogens, and most recently LEDs — the average home in the US uses between 50 and 100 light bulb sockets. That means we burn through a lot of light bulbs every year. However, we can’t throw all of them away with the trash.
Some of these bulbs contain mercury and metallic salts. Not only do these pose a direct health hazard, but can also contaminate the soil and water supply. These hazardous materials need to be safely removed through the recycling process.
How to Recycle Incandescent Light Bulbs
The best way to dispose of incandescent lights to throw them in the trash with the other household items.
They are not considered hazardous waste, but still, wrap them in a newspaper for the safety of sanitation workers.
An incandescent light is also recyclable, but finding a recycling option for it may prove challenging, as the energy that the process requires is not worth the salvaged material in the long run.
Incandescent bulbs are the least expensive but 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  — almost all incandescent bulbs.
How to Recycle Halogen Light Bulbs
Halogens can be regularly thrown into the trash, as they are not considered hazardous waste.
They’re also recyclable, but don’t put them in your glass recycling bin.
Why, you ask?
It's because the quartz glass they are made of melts at a different temperature than bottles and jars, so a single bulb can ruin an entire batch of recyclable glass items.
Halogens are small, lightweight, and easy to produce, with higher luminous efficacy than incandescents in the same watt range. This makes them a popular choice for outdoor lighting and car headlamps. However, they are also being replaced with more energy-efficient options such as LEDs.
How to Dispose of LED Light Bulbs
You can either dispose of LEDs with the rest of your trash items or find a recycling facility that will take them. They don't contain mercury, but some of them contain metals such as copper, nickel, and lead.
Most communities don't require you to recycle LEDs, but if you want them to be put to good use, you can look for a specialized recycling facility since your average recycling center isn’t always able to process them.
LEDs are up to 90% more energy-efficient than incandescent lights and have a lifespan of 50,000 hours. Thanks to these properties, they have replaced older types of bulbs in many applications.
How to Dispose of Fluorescent Light Bulbs and CFLs
Fluorescent bulbs and compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) should always be disposed of through a recycling facility.
In seven states, including California and Maine, it’s required by law. Even if it’s not required where you live, it’s the only right option.
CFLs are 4 times more energy-efficient than their predecessors and last up to 10 times longer. The problem is that these bulbs contain mercury which is harmful to the environment and directly toxic to humans,  even causing developmental problems in unborn children, so they shouldn't go into the trash.
All fluorescent lamps use mercury (Hg) and can be a source of Hg to the environment when broken… The share of atmospheric anthropogenic Hg emissions represented by fluorescent light bulbs in the United States is 1–5 percent. Only a third of fluorescent light bulbs are recycled.
Chris Mead, Scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability
After disposing of your old bulb, you would of course need to replace it with a new one. When you do, consider getting a LED bulb. It’s the most energy-efficient of all types of bulbs, which means cheaper electricity bills for you. It can also last longer than other types so you get the most bang for your buck.
Because of these reasons, you can literally use LED bulbs to replace all other types of bulbs in your home.
Take SANSI's 27W Dimmable LED Bulb, for instance. It used to be that incandescents are the go-to when you need dimmable light fixtures and vanity lighting at home, but this dimmable LED bulb from SANSI can do the same thing while consuming so much less energy.
You can also use it to replace any compact fluorescent in your office, garage, or porch because of its 3000K light color and 25,000+ hours lifespan.
For me, personally, they were perfect for my kid’s room, as I never experienced any flickering or buzzing with them, unlike with CFLs.
Now if you need a brighter light for your garage you might be tempted to get a fluorescent, but don’t — they’re dangerous for your health once they break.
Consider this 60W LED Wing Garage Light from SANSI instead. I’m planning to get one for my garage soon because I like how it has foldable arms that allow me to focus the light wherever I want to — directly below on my car (something I sorely need whenever I polish my car), towards my workshop table, or on my entire garage all at once.
If you, like me, have been dabbling in indoor gardening as well, you can also replace your incandescent and fluorescent grow lights with SANSI's 70W LED Grow Light. It's great for your humid greenhouse environment, your aquariums, and even your terrariums.
What I like about it is I can easily adjust its ceiling mount. This allows me to set the optimal height for every phase of plant growth, which is very important for me to ensure that my plants are always getting just the right amount of light.
It also cools passively without any fans needed, so it's even more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly in that sense.
Once you’ve covered the incandescents and fluorescents in your home, don’t stop there — replace your halogen floodlights and security lights as well. They might be less of an energy hog than incandescents but they still consume more energy than LEDs and CFLs.
If I were you, I would go for this 36W LED Security Light from SANSI (I know, I know, I’m a SANSI fanboy, sorry).
I specifically like this for outdoor use because it’s weatherproof and you can adjust the range at which it detects motion.
Apart from keeping trespassers at bay, I also came to appreciate this motion sensor feature whenever I would arrive home late and I’d have to find my way into my own house while carrying several bags of groceries.
Okay, here's the truth — I'm not sorry I'm a SANSI fanboy. Other light bulb brands I've tried usually burn out quickly, and I was used to buying new bulbs every 6 to 12 months. I hated it. Now, I'd rather get one from SANSI that lasts for years rather than get one from a random brand that will literally leave me in the dark while I'm carrying a heavy load of groceries.
How to Upcycle Old Light Bulbs
There are many creative ways you can repurpose old bulbs. You can turn each of them into a one-of-a-kind piece of art using any design materials you can think of: Sharpie marker, colored sand, glitter, acrylic paint, etc.
You can also turn them into a pear-shaped terrarium, like the one in this video:
Want to use them as tiny vases or planters for spring flowers instead? Remove the base as described in the terrarium video and you can do exactly that.
If, on the off chance you want to go off the grid completely, then you can create this kerosene lamp made out of an old bulb.
Incandescent bulbs, fluorescent bulbs, halogens, and most recently LEDs — the average home in the US uses between 50 and 100 light bulb sockets. That means we burn through a lot of light bulbs every year.
Where to Recycle Light Bulbs
You can recycle light bulbs at hardware stores. Home Depot, Lowe’s, and IKEA accept items such as CFLs as a part of their customer service, but not fluorescent tubes.
You should also check local laws on the disposal of light bulbs in your area as well as available recycling locations. Use the Green Directory to find a light bulbs disposal facility that is nearest to your ZIP code.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s no single answer to how to dispose of light bulbs, since the process differs per type of bulb. Incandescent and halogen bulbs are safe to dispose of with household waste. Meanwhile, fluorescent lamps contain mercury and are considered hazardous waste that needs to be recycled.
LED bulbs, on the other hand, are considered a much greener option, as they contain neither mercury nor sodium. They can be recycled for other materials, but only through specialized light bulb recycling facilities. Go to our Green Directory at the top of this page to find the one nearest to you.
Nikola uses his background in electrical engineering to break down complex sustainability topics for GreenCitizen’s readers. He is a firm believer in environmental conservation, which he practices daily through recycling and home-grown food. He enjoys hiking, white-water sports, and collecting pocket knives.