Dear Recyclebank: Can you recycle light bulbs curbside? –Mandy P.
Dear Mandy: Between their fragility, mixed materials, and the risk of hazardous materials, light bulbs don’t belong in the curbside recycle bin.
Not all light bulbs are made alike, so the reasons vary as to why they can’t go in your regular recycle bin.
The most pressing concern is fluorescent bulbs (or CFLs), which often contain mercury or other potentially hazardous gases. Because of this, they are classified as Household Hazardous Waste (HHW). A broken CFL in a batch of curbside recycling could cause problems quickly, as you might imagine, but many places forbid disposing of them even in the trash. It’s important to understand the HHW laws in your area, and to dispose of CFLs and other HHW in accordance with regulations.
Other types of bulbs, like incandescent bulbs, can still cause problems. In addition to their mixed materials (including added metal), it’s likely that the glass used isn’t the same as the container glass found in your beverage bottles and food jars. Adding bulbs to the recycle can complicate the recycling process and even lead to a botched outcome. Always check the package and contact the manufacturer if needed, about how to dispose of your particular type of light bulbs. Don’t put them in your recycle bin.
Are you out of luck for disposing of light bulbs? Not at all. It’s very possible that light bulbs are specially collected in your area. To dispose of them, contact a nearby specialty-recycling center directly, or look online for a local recycler or in-store recycling program. For fluorescent bulbs, you may also want to brush up on your local HHW collection process. Find out more with our column on HHW disposal.
Don’t rule out repurposing your light bulbs if you can safely do so. Older light bulbs without toxic additives can be used in more crafty projects than you might expect. The most obvious choice is making a bulb into an oil lamp, though it’ll require some supervision while it burns. Light bulbs can also become storage for small items like paper clips, or even hold your salt and pepper as cute shakers if they’re properly cleaned out. For an extra green (and adorable) touch, try turning your bulbs into small vases or tiny terrariums. To get in the holiday spirit, you can make all kinds of creative ornaments. Check out this Pinterest board for more ideas and inspiration.
As with anything, being aware of your choices when you buy supplies for your home can save you trouble and confusion. Do some research before you buy, and you’ll know what steps to take long before your bulb gives out.