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Because You Asked

Can I Recycle Light Bulbs Curbside? 5

By Recyclebank |

The glass, metal, and other materials in your light bulbs are useful, but complex, and the recycling process for bulbs isn’t straightforward.

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.

SOURCES: EPA, Solana Center for Environmental Innovation

Have you upgraded to more energy-efficient bulbs? How has it affected your energy use and the amount of bulbs you use? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Merry H. 7 months ago
    You can turn 'normally shaped' light bulbs into cute and working maracas. Tear, not cut, old newspaper into 1/2 wide strips. Soak some in water. Used this for the first covering layer on the bulb. All over it. Then soak more in white glue til soaked. Its ok to dilute with a small bit of water. Cover the maraca bulb in at least seven layers. More is better. Let dry several days. When thoroughly dry toss on hard floor. The glass inside will break to make the sound part. Paint in bright colors. Voila! Maracas. Big flood light bulbs are really great! Add ribbons to handle for even fancier ones.
  • joanna l. 7 months ago
    I brought a lightbulb to a recycling event sponsored by our senator and assemblyman. They did not know what could be done with it (or that some contain mercury) so they suggested that I try the Earth911 site. This is where I found out that Home Depot takes them.
    • joanna l. 7 months ago
      Let your reps know how you feel about recycling, you want it to be easier ! this recycling was a great opportunity to do just that. You can also visit their facebook page or send them and e mail to voice your opinions.
  • deborah D. 7 months ago
    An increasing number of larger hardware stores (aside from the national big box stores) are also providing access to recycling fluorescent (tube or CFL) and incandescent bulbs.
    It never hurts to check with your state\local solid waste website for hazardous household waste options.
  • Linda W. 7 months ago
    I have taken my old CFLs to the Home Depot, and fluorescent bulbs, too, my only time I use the old-fashioned incandescents is for a very few lamps that won't accommodate a CFL style bulb~!
  • Laura L. 7 months ago
    Lowe's, Home Depot and Ikea take lightbulbs at the front of their stores for recycling, just be sure to put it in something so it doesn't break-I use bubble wrap envelopes that are leftover or paper bags. Also, if you don't like the ultra bright white light bulbs there's a million different shades available now in both LED and CFL, a yellow-amber hue is more similar to natural light and will help you wind down for bed as it imitates the natural sunset. I have some and they work great.
    • Duane W. 7 months ago
      Thanks for this reminder. Here's an article on how to avoid the blue light waves emitting from computer LED screens:
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