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How to Safely Dispose of Old CFL Bulbs – A Complete Guide

CFL Bulb

CFL Bulb

CFL bulbs were introduced as a replacement for the traditional incandescent bulb. They use around a quarter of the energy as an incandescent bulb with the same lumen rating, and they last ten times longer.

However, while this makes the CFL bulb more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly, it does still contain mercury so this style of energy-saving bulb should be disposed of properly. CFL bulbs can be recycled, but not usually in your kerbside recycling, preventing the escape of mercury into the environment and sending the constituent components of the bulb for recycling and reuse.

Depending on the area you live, and even the number of CFL bulbs you have, it may be possible to arrange an annual or bi-annual collection of old bulbs, use a mail-in service, and some local and national stores offer a recycling service. It may even be a legal requirement that this type of bulb is sent for recycling, in your area, rather than sent to a landfill.

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About CFL Bulbs

Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) bulbs are a form of energy-saving light bulb. Electric current is passed through a tube, in which there is a combination of argon and mercury vapor. The reaction excites a phosphor coating on the inside of the tube and gives off visible light.

This type of bulb was actually invented in the late 19th century but did not hit shelves or ceilings until the very late 20th Century because of the high cost associated with their manufacture. Their purchase price was considered prohibitively high for the average user. When they did start to gain popularity, the LED bulb also started to gain traction.

Image Credit: anvel, Pixabay

Although some manufacturers have ceased producing the CFL bulb, in favor of the LED bulb, they can still be obtained and there is a very good chance that your home has at least one such bulb.

Are CFL Light Bulbs Hazardous Waste?

Everybody is encouraged to recycle CFL bulbs, and in some states, it has actually been made illegal to send them to landfill. The fact that the bulbs contain some mercury, which can leak into the atmosphere means that certain states, including California, treat the bulbs as they are hazardous waste.

Can You Throw Fluorescent Light Bulbs in The Garbage?

CFL and other bulbs that contain mercury should not be thrown in the normal trash. Although there is only a very small amount of mercury, when the bulbs break, this mercury escapes into the air and may also get into standing water and water sources.

Storing Old Fluorescent Bulbs

Before your bulbs can be sent for recycling, you will have to store them safely within your home or other premises. Ideally, you should place the spent bulb back in its original box or in the box that you got the replacement from.

Alternatively, you can use specialist boxes and containers provided by the recycling and waste disposal mail-in company that you use. Once in the box, these need to be stored safely, in a cupboard or the garage, until they are collected or until you have a chance to take the bulbs to a recycling center.

fluorescent lamps
Image Credit: THALERNGSAK MONGKOLSIN, Shutterstock

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How to Recycle CFL Bulbs

You cannot throw old CFL bulbs in the general waste, but there are several ways that you can recycle them, including:

  • Waste Collection Services – has a list of waste collection services. Some of these organizations will visit you annually to collect old and used bulbs. Others may visit more often. They will usually provide you with a bag, box, or another container to hold the bulbs until they visit.
  • Waste Recycling Centers – Some recycling centers will accept the bulbs and is a good resource to find these centers, too. It may be more convenient to wait until you have amassed a few of the bulbs and then take them to a recycling center near you. There should be a separate section, especially for bulbs.
  • Local Retailers – Some local retailers and national stores offer a bulb recycling service. Home Depot, Ikea, and Lowe’s are among the major retailers that do offer this service. Check with your local branch to ensure that they do provide a recycling service. Otherwise, you may be disappointed when you arrive.
  • Mail-In Services – Mail-in services require that you collect and hold on to old bulbs. You should keep them in their original boxes or the boxes of replacement bulbs. Put them in the provided container and, once the container is full, you return it to the company via the method outlined. This can be a convenient method of recycling, but it may also mean that you are left with bulbs hanging around the home while you wait to fill the bag or box.
  • Should I Throw Away Incandescent Light Bulbs?

Incandescent light bulbs are not considered energy efficient, and their use has mostly been replaced by that of CFL and LED bulbs. However, while they last a fraction of the time and use considerably more energy, one thing that incandescent bulbs do have in their favor is that they do not contain mercury. This means that they can be thrown away with the regular waste. The small electrical wires mean that the bulbs cannot be recycled, however.

CFL lamp
Image Credit: PublicDomainPictures, Pixabay

Can You Throw LED Light Bulbs in The Garbage?

One of the benefits of LED bulbs is that they do not contain mercury, either. They can, technically, be thrown in with your standard garbage. Like incandescent bulbs, there are some elements of the LED bulb that cannot be recycled, but it is estimated that 95% of the bulb can be recycled and reused. As such, it is environmentally friendly to find a recycling service that will take this type of bulb.

Can You Throw Away Old Lightbulbs?

How you dispose of old lightbulbs will depend on the type of bulb you have. Incandescent bulbs, which have fallen out of favor because they are inefficient and have a short lifespan, are not considered hazardous waste and can therefore be thrown in with the regular trash. LED bulbs are also considered safe to be thrown in landfills, although you can find companies that will recycle them. CFL, fluorescent, and other bulbs that contain mercury, however, are considered hazardous. They cannot be thrown in the trash and you will have to find a recycling center or a local store that operates a recycling scheme to safely dispose of this type of bulb.

Featured Image: Diermaier, Pixabay


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