All light bulbs eventually burn out. Today’s compact fluorescent and LED bulbs are far more economical in energy usage than old-school incandescents, but they contain toxic elements and must be disposed of properly to protect the environment. Here’s how to get rid of old light bulbs safely.
Different bulbs, different elements
Incandescent bulbs were a mainstay in household illumination for a century. Then fluorescent commercial light bulbs were reduced to a compact size for residential use. Next came light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs).
Compact fluorescents (CFLs) are far cheaper to operate than incandescents, and LEDs are even more economical. The higher price of LEDs may make that seem counterintuitive, but these bulbs cost pennies to operate, so you’ll recoup their purchase price with energy cost savings.
The differences in light bulbs mean they should be disposed of differently.
- Incandescent light bulbs do not contain heavy metals, so they can be thrown in the trash without hurting the environment. For safety’s sake, place the bulb inside a cardboard container such as the original packaging or a soda cup. Halogen bulbs are not common in residential settings but also can be stowed in protective packaging and tossed in the trash.
- Compact fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, a toxic heavy metal. Tossing CFL bulbs in the trash means they’ll end up in a landfill, where the mercury will leach into the soil and eventually into the groundwater supply.
- LED lights are made using other heavy metals: lead and arsenic. LED light bulbs can last for a decade, so you will not have to dispose of them often, but like CFLs, they do not belong in your household trash.
Where to take used bulbs
If you live in a medium-to- large city, chances are your local government has a recycling and disposal program for household chemicals, electronics, and CFL and LED light bulbs (although some localities don’t accept LEDs). Visit your city government website or call for information on where to take used light bulbs. If the city does not have a program, it may be able to refer you to a privately run program. Some big box home improvement stores, such as Lowe’s or Home Depot, offer light bulb recycling.
If you want to get rid of incandescent holiday light strands, consult your local government. If your municipality does not take them, check with Holiday LEDs, a light retailer that will accept old holiday lights for recycling and give you a coupon for their products. A scrap metal recycler also might take them for the copper wire.
For help finding recycling centers for bulbs, electronics and more, use the search tool at Earth 911 to find a site near you. Another handy site is Bulb Cycle, which will take commercial fluorescent light tubes. You simply pack them up in a box and send them off.
Related – Should I Switch to LED Light Bulbs?