If you’re in the habit of tossing your burned out light bulbs in the trash, you might be making a mistake. There may be a recycling drop-off point right in your neighborhood, but more importantly, some light bulbs must be recycled for the good of the environment.
- Some light bulbs contain hazardous materials that can contaminate water and soil if left in a landfill
- Your curbside recycling service might take light bulbs, but do your research to find the right place to recycle them
- Some states and local jurisdictions have laws that dictate light bulb disposal
Types of Light Bulbs to Recycle
For the purposes of recycling, most light bulbs fit into one of three categories:
- Incandescent light bulbs and halogen light bulbs do not contain any hazardous materials, so it’s acceptable to throw these directly into the trash. They are recyclable, but because of the specialized processes necessary to separate the materials, they’re not accepted at all recycling centers.
- CFL bulbs and other fluorescent bulbs contain trace amounts of mercury, a hazardous material. They’re safe to use in your home, but when they end up in a landfill, they can contaminate soil and water. There are many places to recycle these bulbs, but you should always verify that CFLs are accepted before taking them to any recycling center.
- LED bulbs are non-toxic and built to last for years, but they can still be rendered useless due to damage, defect or old age. LEDs are accepted by some recycling centers, including some that specialize in recycling consumer electronics, but the average recycling center isn’t equipped to process them.
Where to Recycle Light Bulbs
1. Curbside recycling
If you have curbside recycling service through your municipality or a private company, you should begin your search on the service’s website. There should be a comprehensive list of what materials are accepted, and many services will list items that are specifically not accepted.
You should not expect your curbside recycler to take CFLs, as curbside recycling is a rough-and-tumble business and fluorescent bulbs release their mercury as soon as they break. It’s possible that your recycler will take other types of bulbs, but don’t assume that they will.
2. Retailers and Recycling Centers
If you can’t recycle them curbside, the next step is to search for a recycling center near you with a website like Earth911 or Recycle Nation. You can search based on different types of light bulbs, and you might even discover some nearby processors that accept materials you didn’t even know you could recycle.
Searchable recycling center databases are great ways to find chain retailers that provide light bulb recycling bins, especially for CFLs. Many Home Depot, Lowe’s and IKEA stores accept old bulbs, for instance.
3. Mail-In Recycling
If you still don’t have a convenient way to recycle light bulbs where you live, there’s yet another way, but it could cost you. Companies like Lampmaster Recycling and EZ on the Earth offer light bulb recycling by mail. You can order a prepaid, durable container online, then just fill it with light bulbs and send it back. This can be expensive, but if you live in a remote location, it may be the best option for keeping your old light bulbs out of the landfill.
Know Your Local Recycling Laws
In some states and local jurisdictions, it’s against the law to throw a CFL bulb into the regular trash. Fortunately, jurisdictions with these requirements also tend to have a range of convenient recycling services.
The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a list of state laws applicable to light bulb recycling, but it does not track local laws. Call your local city hall, waste collection agency or recycling center to inquire about whether there are any light bulb recycling laws in your area.