How to Dispose of Light Bulbs Properly
Though light bulbs last longer and perform better than ever, they eventually do burn out or break. All light bulbs have different disposal requirements. Find out how to dispose of light bulbs like LED, incandescent, CFL, and fluorescent, and how to do so safely and properly.
How to Dispose of LED Bulbs
Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs can be disposed of in your regular trash service. Curbside scheduled recycling programs typically will not take LED bulbs.
LEDs mainly come in bulb and reflector (cone) shapes. LED bulbs are cool when emitting light and usually can be identified by their plastic tops and bottoms. The socket will be metal.
LED bulbs do not contain mercury, so they are not considered to be hazardous waste, as fluorescent tubes or CFLs are. But LEDs do contain circuit boards, which have lead and arsenic. So, it is always good to see if your local recycling program will take LED bulbs as part of their special collection services program.
To dispose of LED bulbs in your regular trash service, simply drop the bulbs in the trash. LED bulbs are made of plastic and will not shatter.
How to Dispose of Incandescent Bulbs and Lamps
Incandescent light bulbs can be disposed of in your regular trash service. Most curbside recycling programs will not accept incandescent light bulbs.
Incandescent light bulbs can be identified by their wire-like filaments in the middle, though with frosted incandescent bulbs the filament can be hard to see. Incandescent bulbs become hot when emitting light.
Prepare an incandescent light bulb for disposal by wrapping it in a paper or plastic bag. If the bulb does break, the debris will be contained in the bag.
How to Dispose of Halogen Bulbs
Halogen light bulbs can be disposed of in the regular household trash service or recycled at an approved facility, depending on your area's requirements. Halogen bulbs cannot be placed in the regular recycling bin. Check with your community's hazardous waste management program to see if halogen bulbs need to be recycled in your area.
Halogen bulbs are typically reflector-shaped and they burn hot and bright. Halogen bulbs are found around the home and garage as auto headlights, outdoor flood lights, indoor recessed lights, under-cabinet lighting, and as work lights.
To dispose of a halogen bulb in regular household trash, place the bulb in a plastic or paper grocery bag and then put it in your regular trash service. Halogen bulbs are sturdy and will not break easily, so wrapping is only a precaution.
How to Dispose of Fluorescent Light Tubes
Fluorescent light tubes should be recycled at approved recycling facilities. Do not include fluorescent light tubes in regular trash service or in curbside recycling.
Fluorescent light tubes are long, glass tubes, usually from 2 to 8 feet long. Around the home, fluorescent light tubes are found in garages, sheds, carports, and workshops.
Fluorescent light tubes contain mercury, so they are considered to be hazardous waste. Most curbside trash and recycling programs will not accept fluorescent tubes not only due to the toxic materials but because the tubes are fragile and easily broken.
How to Dispose of CFL Bulbs
Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs should be recycled at approved recycling facilities. CFLs should not be disposed of in your regular trash service or curbside recycling. Recycle CFL bulbs at waste collection agencies, participating local retailers, and mail-back services.
The most common CFL bulb has a coiled or spiral shape, though others can be tubular, globe-shaped, or A-shaped. CFL bulbs burn cool to the touch. CFLs use up to 70-percent less energy than incandescent bulbs.
On a federal level, CFLs were banned in 2022, with a complete phase-out planned for 2025. Some states have enacted bans that take effect sooner than 2025.
Carefully wrap the CFL bulbs individually and place them in an air-tight container or bag for safety. Then, take the wrapped CFL to the facility for recycling.
How to Dispose of Broken CFL or Fluorescent Light Tubes
Broken CFL bulbs or fluorescent tubes should be recycled at approved recycling facilities, not placed in the regular trash.
Due to the mercury content, broken CFLs should be treated with great care. After breaking the bulb, open the windows for ventilation and then leave the area for 15 to 30 minutes.
Gently scoop up the shards into a dustpan or a stiff piece of cardboard. Let the debris slide into an airtight container or zip-lock plastic bag. With a loop of duct tape, pick up powder and small pieces of glass. Wipe up the rest with a wet paper towel. Place all materials, including the CFL base or fluorescent tube terminals, into the plastic bag. Take the bag to the recycling facility.
How to Dispose of HID Bulbs
HID or high-intensity discharge (HID) should be recycled at an approved recycling facility since they contain mercury. Do not drop HID bulbs in the regular trash or recycling service.
HID lights aren't common around the home. They may be found in the garage as high-end vehicle headlamps or as plant-growing lights. High-pressure sodium lights, xenon, plasma, arc, mercury vapor lights, metal halide, and ultraviolet (UV) lights are types of HID lights. Lights that contain mercury often have "Hg" (the symbol for mercury) on the bulb or packaging.
Wrap the HID bulb loosely in plastic and take it to an approved recycling facility.
How to Dispose of String or Holiday Lights
Dispose of string or holiday lights in your regular trash service or with retailers or organizations that accept string lights for recycling.
String lights eligible for recycling include the mini-light strings used for holiday decorations, not the larger glass bulbs. The copper wire makes string and holiday lights valuable for recycling.
Remove all plastic decorations or attachments from the wires and the bulbs. The strings do not need to be specially wrapped.
Toxic Bulb Recycling Services
Waste collection agencies, participating local retailers, and mail-back services are the main avenues for safely recycling CFLs, fluorescent tubes, and HID bulbs.
Waste collection agencies: Your local hazardous waste management program may offer free or fee-based collection events for light bulbs that contain toxic materials. These events may happen once or twice per year at various collection points throughout your area.
Local retailers: Some participating local retailers may accept CFL, fluorescent, and HID bulbs for a small fee. Home Depot, Batteries Plus, Lowe's Home Improvement, Bartell's Drugs, and IKEA stores sometimes accept these bulbs. Always check with the retailer in advance.
Mail-back recycling services: Services such as EcoLights, BulbCycle, and LampMaster are fee-based services that send you pre-paid cardboard or plastic bucket mailers, allowing you to load them up with bulbs that local facilities will not handle.
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