How to Dispose of Light Bulbs?

You can find a broader range of light bulb varieties in the market today than ever before—some of which can last for 50,000 hours. Regardless of the type, light bulbs eventually burn out. The question is what are you supposed to do when a light bulb burns out?

Is throwing them in the trash or in the recycle bin with other glass and metal the right thing to do?

Before getting rid of your burnt out light bulbs, you should be aware that some light bulbs contain toxic components that are hazardous to both human health as well as our environment.

You need to dispose of your light bulbs that are no longer usable. Read all about the proper method of disposing of used light bulbs in this blog post.

Disposal of Different Types of Light Bulbs

Below are some of the common light bulbs we use in our households and how to dispose of light bulbs the right way.

Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent light bulbs or incandescent light globes are the oldest bulbs that people have used for decades for lamps and overhead fixtures.

They are made using a wire filament that, upon heating, starts to glow brightly.

They usually last from 700 to 2000 hours. Due to this short lifespan and the need for higher wattage, energy-efficient light bulbs have replaced incandescent bulbs to a great extent.

Since incandescent light bulbs only contain a wire filament in sealed thin glass bulbs and have no toxic components, you can safely throw them in the trash.

It is difficult to remove the thin wire filaments during the recycling of glass, so the only way of their disposal is to throw them with household waste.

We recommend that you first put the incandescent bulb in disposable packaging before throwing it in the trash. Incandescent bulbs are breakable and fragile, and for that reason, you should handle them with care to avoid hurting yourself or anyone else who handles the trash.

Halogen Bulbs

Halogen light bulbs are similar to incandescent bulbs. The only difference is that they contain tungsten filament wire sealed under pressure in thick, high-silica glass bulbs.

They are like an up-gradation to the old incandescent light bulbs. Halogen bulbs can last from 2000 to 4000 hours, and you can use them for indoor as well as outdoor light fixtures.

Like with incandescent bulbs, it is challenging to remove the thin tungsten filament wire in halogen bulbs during the recycling of glass. For this reason, you need to dispose of halogen bulbs properly in regular house trash as well.

As compared to incandescent bulbs, these light bulbs have thicker glass, and hence they are less fragile. Yet, it is best to first put them in a disposable packaging before discarding them into the trash.

LED Bulbs

Light-emitting diodes or LED light bulbs are one of the best choices for energy-efficient bulbs. These illuminate after going through the process of electroluminescence.

The process involves passing electrons through a semiconductor material, which is quite similar to the way laser works. LED bulbs immediately come to full brightness without any warm-up delay.

The lifespan of these types of light bulbs ranges from 35000 to 50000 hours. The energy consumption is also minimal when compared to incandescent and halogen bulbs.

Currently, there are no LED recycling regulations or laws, and you can safely dispose of them with your household waste. However, you can contact the recycling centers in your area to check if they take LEDs for recycling.

You might also find some recycling centers online that accept LED bulbs for recycling. Unlike incandescent and halogen light bulbs, LEDs do not contain wire filaments which make recycling difficult. For this reason, we expect to see more recycling options for LED bulbs in the future.

If you cannot find a convenient option for the recycling of your LED bulbs, you can discard them in the trash without any hesitation. They do not contain any toxic components that would pose any risk to the environment.

Linear Fluorescent

Linear Fluorescent light bulbs are low-pressure mercury-vapor gas-discharge lamps. When the electric current provides energy to the mercury vapor, it produces short-wave ultraviolet light.

This makes the phosphorous coating on the inside of the bulb glow. Linear fluorescents are much more energy-efficient and long-lasting than incandescent light bulbs. They have a lifespan of about 24000 to 36000 hours.

Due to the presence of mercury vapor inside the linear fluorescents, you cannot throw them away in the trash. Mercury is a toxic element that can be hazardous to the environment.

Many states mandate the recycling of fluorescent tubes as it is part of the law.

More states are likely to follow the lead. Many retailers and home improvement stores have fluorescent recycling collection stations where you can drop off your used fluorescent light without any cost.

By searching fluorescent tubes with your zip code, you can find the collection centers in your area. Alternately, you can also visit Earth911 to know where to recycle your fluorescent light bulbs.

If you have to dispose of a broken fluorescent tube, you have to be extra careful as it causes the release of a small amount of mercury vapor. There is a method for the safe disposal of fluorescents, which will be discussed further in the blog post.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

A compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) or energy-saving light bulb is a narrow, twisted-shape fluorescent bulb that was first designed to replace the more energy-consuming option, incandescent bulbs. Some can even fit into incandescent light fixtures.

They usually last from 8000 to 20000 hours, which makes them the most durable choice among other types of light bulbs.

CFLs like fluorescent tubes contain a small amount of mercury, which is the reason why you should not throw them away with your household waste.

They need to be recycled to protect the environment from any exposure to mercury. Many places can offer you the recycling of CFLs, however, you will have to look around to make sure they accept CFLs.

You can also search on Earth911 or search CFLs with your zip code to find out the nearest recycling centers to your place.

Disposal of Broken Fluorescent Bulbs and CFLs

People prefer using fluorescent bulbs and CFLs over other options because they are more energy-efficient and long-lasting. However, they contain a small amount of mercury which can be harmful to both human health as well as the environment.

This makes it essential to dispose of these types of light bulbs responsibly, rather than discarding them with your household waste.

While CFLs can easily be recycled, the more important question is what one should do if a fluorescent tube or CFL is broken. Many recycling collection stations might not accept broken CFLs. Here’s how to get rid of them:

Gathering Broken Pieces

First off, have everyone, including any pets, leave the room where there is a broken CFL. Allow ventilation in the room sufficiently for 5-10 minutes.

Open all the windows and switch off the air-conditioning system to air out the room. Now, using stiff paper cardboard or wet towels, collect all the fragments and powder.

You must not use a vacuum because it will only further distribute the mercury vapor in the room. You can also use the sticky side of duct tape to pick any remaining bits of glass and powder.

Cleaning Up a Broken CFL

After collecting the fragments from the floor, use disposable wet wipes or wet paper towels to clean the place. Put these used wipes or towels in a plastic bag or a jar along with the broken glass and material that you used for collection.

Now put this sealed plastic bag or container outside in a garbage can until it is time for their disposal.

Disposing of Broken CFL

You can contact your local waste authority to dispose of broken fluorescent light bulbs and CFLs. You can also find out the nearest collection station on the Earth911 website.

If there are no regulations regarding the recycling of CFLs in your state or you cannot find a collection station near you, you can put the container or plastic bag in the trash can outside your house for pickup.

Know the Recycling Laws in Your Area

Some states have regulations and laws regarding the disposal of CFLs, and it is illegal to throw them into the trash. Such jurisdictions also offer various recycling services in the proximity of residential areas.

You can find out about the recycling and disposal laws in your area on the website of the Environment Protection Agency.

You can also contact your local waste collection agency or a nearby recycling center to get information about the proper disposal of light bulbs.

Conclusion

According to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations, fluorescent light bulbs fall under the category of “producer responsibility.”

If you have a business or an organization that uses fluorescent bulbs, you can contact the supplier to arrange for recycling of used light bulbs.

While disposing of the used light bulbs might seem like an easier option, some types of bulbs pose a risk to human health and our environment.

The toxic components in fluorescent and CFL bulbs can contaminate water and soil if they end up in a landfill. A little responsible behavior on your part can do a lot of good to the collective community and the environment.

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