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Can You Recycle Light Bulbs? How Is It Done?

a light bulb in a bar

Since light bulbs burn out so frequently, many people wonder if you can recycle them instead of throwing them in the trash. Fortunately, the answer is yes. You can recycle many different kinds of light bulbs, though not all. Keep reading as we explain why you should recycle light bulbs, how to do it, and when you can’t, so you can be better informed.

light bulb divider

What Are the Different Kinds of Light Bulbs?

Incandescent Light Bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs are by far the most popular types, though their popularity is fading due to the introduction of LED lightbulbs. These bulbs have a glass enclosure with a tungsten filament. As electricity passes through the filament, it glows and lightens the room. They can be found everywhere, from overhead lights to the headlights in automobiles. They’re inexpensive and compatible with dimmers and timers.

Incandescent light bulb
Image By: Pexels, Pixabay

How Can I Recycle Incandescent Light Bulbs?

Unfortunately, incandescent light bulbs are the most difficult to recycle, and you cannot put them in your recycling bin. The metal and glass are hard to separate, and most recyclers consider it too costly to salvage these bulbs, so most people will throw them in the trash. However, if you have many of these bulbs to dispose of, it might be worth checking with your local recycling stations to see if any will take them. A few mail-in programs also exist that enable you to mail in your old bulbs to get recycled.

Halogen Light Bulbs

Halogen light bulbs are large glass bulbs that usually light walkways or work as security lights. They work the same as incandescent lights but are brighter, with a heated metal filament inside a bigger glass chamber that glows when electricity passes through it.

Halogen Bulbs
Image Credit By: jniittymaa0, pixabay

How Can I Recycle Halogen Light Bulbs?

Like with incandescent bulbs, it can be difficult to recycle halogen lights because of the combination of metal and glass. Another problem is that the quartz glass in halogen lights melts at a different temperature than other glass and can ruin glass recyclables, so most people throw them in the trash or look for a mail-in program.

Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Many people refer to the compact fluorescent light bulb as simply a CFL, and you can identify it easily by its spiral shape, which is essentially a long tube in the shape of a standard light bulb. The tube contains argon gas and mercury, emitting light when electricity passes through it. These bulbs are more efficient than incandescent lights, so they are often used in large buildings, like schools, businesses, hospitals, and municipal buildings.

Flourescent light bulbs
Image Credit: analogicus, Pixabay

How Can I Recycle Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs?

Unfortunately, CFLs contain mercury, so you can’t put them in your recycling bin or the trash. In fact, it might even be against the law in your area. The best way to recycle these bulbs is to take them to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot, which often accepts them. Another common location that accepts CFL bulbs is Bartell Drugs. If you don’t have one of these facilities near your location, you will need to check with your local recycling center to see who can take them.

What If I Break a CFL Bulb?

Breaking a CFL bulb will release mercury and create a severe health hazard. Experts recommend evacuating the area of people and pets immediately and opening a window. Then, collect the broken glass and any visible powder, and seal it in a container before calling the recycling center to see where to dispose of it. Never use a vacuum to clean it because it can spread the mercury powder into the air.

LED Light Bulbs

An LED is a light-emitting diode, which is a component that produces light when electricity passes through it. It’s extremely efficient, and reports suggest that it’s as much as 90% more efficient than an incandescent bulb. It also lasts longer than the other types, with some lasting 50,000 hours or more, and it doesn’t get hot.

LED light bulb
Image Credit: Karol Olson, Pixabay

How Can I Recycle LED Light Bulbs?

LED lights are the most eco-friendly and don’t contain any hazardous materials. They also contain valuable metals that are easy to separate from the other components, so it’s easier to find recyclers. Many big-item stores like Lowe’s, Home Depot, IKEA, and others have in-store recycling bins where you can drop them off to be recycled. You can also call your local waste management company to see what it recommends.

Tips and Tricks for Recycling Light Bulbs

  • Many people find interesting and creative ways to use incandescent and halogen lamps for crafts. They can make great Christmas tree ornaments, snow globes, or small planters.
  • Replacing your incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs will significantly reduce the number of bulbs that you need to recycle, as many will last more than 30 times longer.
  • Don’t touch an incandescent light bulb with your fingers because the oils can cause it to crack.

light bulb divider

Summary

Although finding recycling centers for certain types of light bulbs can be challenging, it’s worth not tossing them in the trash because some contain toxic metals and gases, and reusing the materials will also help reduce our environmental footprint. While you might not be able to recycle any current incandescent and halogen bulbs, switching to LED options will enable you to recycle your future bulbs. To recycle your CFL and LED light bulbs, visit your local Lowe’s or Home Depot, as they usually have recycling bins available, or check with your local waste management company.


Featured Image Credit: holdosi, Pixabay

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