Dear Recyclebank: We use long-necked lighters around the house for candles and birthday cakes. I know matches are the better way to go, but I'd love to know — what's the best way to get rid of the disposable lighters we already have on hand? Are they considered hazardous waste? Can any part of them be recycled? Thanks! –Jenny S., Hamilton, NY
Dear Jenny: We are glad that you’re thinking twice before throwing your disposable lighters in the trash! Made primarily of plastic and metal, it’s fair to assume that lighters should be recyclable in some way or another. However, the various materials used in lighters are rarely identified by manufacturers, making proper recycling nearly impossible.
Most municipalities, like NYC, identify lighters as garbage that cannot be recycled with plastics or metals, though others, like Hamilton, NY, may not specify. Lighter manufacturers like BIC have made safety a top priority, putting lighters through over 50 tests to make sure they “meet or exceed international safety requirements” for use. This does not prevent the dangerous release of harmful chemicals after the lighter has been disposed of, so we highly recommend contacting your local municipality for household hazardous waste disposal instructions (the lighter fluid does make these HHW).
When it comes to the best alternative, we have to agree with Grist’s Umbra Fisk: The chemicals and resources used for matches aren’t a perfect solution, but companies that use responsibly managed wood and recycled cardboard for match material, like Diamond, beat disposable lighters any day. For campfires or BBQs, matches can just be tossed into the fire. Reusable lighters, like the variety of sizes, lengths, and strengths offered by Zippo, are another preferable alternative to disposables that will avoid landfills and ultimately reduce the cost of buying new lighters every time you strike empty.