How To Recycle Light Bulbs

To recycle or not to recycle? It’s seems easiest to play it safe by tossing a dead bulb into the trash. But what about losing potentially recyclable material like glass and metal? Is it worth adding it to your home recycling bin, just in case?

Actually, it entirely depends on the kind of bulb you have. Some have chemicals that can leach out and negatively impact the environment. While many recycling facilities can’t process light bulbs, there are some specialized locations that accept bulbs for their programs.

So here is a quick snapshot of common bulb types, how to dispose of them, and why they need to be disposed of properly. I drew heavily from this article on Digital Trends, but I condensed the ideas so it’s easy to revisit when you need to check quickly and head out the door.

Incandescent Bulbs

Trash or Recycle: Trash them if you must. Ideally, recycle them with a program like at Home Depot or IKEA.

Why: They are made from a different kind of glass than jars/bottles, and the metal elements can’t be separated out during the recycling process.

CFL and Florescent Bulbs

Trash or Recycle: Recycle them at a facility that accepts them. Check out this awesome resource at Earth911 to find many options. Lowe’s does at least offer CFL recycling programs. Do NOT throw away with regular garbage!

Why: These bulbs contain mercury, so if sent to a landfill, it could leach into the surrounding water and environment.

LED bulbs

Trash or Recycle: These are safe to throw away, but depending on your local recycling company, they may be recyclable. Take a few moments to check, or use the Earth911 recycling search to see your nearest options.

Why: LED bulbs have no dangerous chemicals inside, but run using a microchip. These appear similar to typical incandescent bulbs, but are designed to last longer and use less energy! If you aren’t already using LED bulbs at home, switch to these soon! You’ll save money by having to replace bulbs far less often, pay less for the electricity to run them, and likely reduce waste by going through fewer bulbs too!

Halogen bulbs

Trash or Recycle: Halogen bulbs can be thrown away, but check your local recycling options first!

Why: Halogen bulbs are similar to incandescent ones, but stronger in structure and brightness. So again, the materials used to make them can’t typically be processed in single-stream recycling.

My Biggest Takeaways

Switch to LED bulbs if possible! Again, you’ll save energy and money by doing so, and reduce the waste you create.

It can take a few extra minutes to double check that you’re disposing of something correctly, but it’s a small sacrifice for the sake of the environment. Doing so potentially saves that item from sitting needlessly in a landfill or contaminating the groundwater. And when materials that can’t be recycled get mixed in incorrectly with other single-stream recycling items, it can mean that the batch it’s mixed in with has been be thrown away after all.

I think the Earth911 search page is amazing! I can only give you general guides on eco resources here, but using that page will let you find the specific info you need in your community! Please share it with your friends so they can use it too!

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