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Because You Asked

Can I Recycle Light Bulbs Curbside?

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.

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • Naheed H. 1 month ago
    I earned many points but I can’t see them
  • NAncy Lee B. 1 month ago
    Home Depot and Lows in NYC both have bins to put them in and they are sent for recycling. If these companies or similar are in your area you might ask at customer service :)
  • tommy b. 1 month ago
  • Lynne H. 1 year ago
    Please do NOT throw away your mascara wands. Instead, clean JUST THE WAND with dawn soap, place them in a ziploc bag and mail them to a Wildlife Refuge accepting donations. These little wands are able to be upcycled to clean away oil, larvae, fly eggs, mites, infections, mud and other contaminants from wildlife. Works great for medical care and wound treatment

    Pick your refuge to mail to:

    Appalachian Wild
    P.O. Box 1211
    Skyland NC 28776


    Wildlife Wands
    P.O. Box 1586
    Southwick, MA 01077.
  • Merry H. 2 years 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.
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