How to Safely Dispose of Lightbulbs

by Hannah Stephens
broken lightbulb in bathroom vanity

Figuring out how to dispose of lightbulbs can be a head-scratcher, and nobody wants to injure themselves or a refuse collector while getting rid of these essential fixtures.

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Fortunately, lightbulb disposal is simpler than you might imagine.

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How Do You Dispose of Fluorescent Lightbulbs?

Fluorescent lightbulbs contain mercury, so disposing of them in your regular trash could release this harmful substance into the environment. Most curbside trash collection services don't collect fluorescent tubes because they count as hazardous waste. Therefore, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends disposing of fluorescent bulbs at your local recycling center.

Most fluorescent bulb components are fully recyclable, and several states have legislation preventing citizens from disposing of fluorescent bulbs in landfill sites. You can find a fluorescent lightbulb disposal location near you by searching the RecycleNation database.

Before taking your burnt-out tube to your local recycling center, wrap it in bubble wrap or packing paper to keep it from breaking. If the fluorescent tube breaks during removal, follow these steps to keep yourself and your family safe:

  • Evacuate pets and children from the affected room and turn off your HVAC system.
  • Open windows and doors and allow the air to circulate for around 10 minutes before cleaning up.
  • Pick up the broken glass using a piece of cardboard, and seal the fragments inside a jar or other sealable container.
  • Avoid using a vacuum cleaner to remove glass fragments to minimize mercury dispersal.
  • Use sticky tape to remove smaller pieces of glass from floors and furnishings, and place the tape inside the sealable container.
  • Keep the sealed container outside your home and dispose of the contents at your local recycling center.
  • If possible, leave doors and windows open and avoid using your HVAC system for several hours after the breakage.

How Do You Dispose of Incandescent Lightbulbs?

Incandescent lightbulbs are nonhazardous, but most curbside recycling programs don't accept them. You can place incandescent lightbulbs in your regular trash.

While incandescent bulbs don't contain hazardous materials, they could cause injuries to a household member or refuse collector if they crack. You can reduce the risk by placing used bulbs in a sealed bag. The bag will safely contain any glass fragments if the bulb breaks.

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How Do You Dispose of LED Lightbulbs?

LED lightbulb disposal is straightforward because they're almost always manufactured using plastic. Therefore, they don't shatter and are significantly less likely to cause injuries than other lightbulb types.

You can place LED lightbulbs in your trash can for collection by your regular curbside pickup service. Some recycling collection programs take LED bulbs, but restrictions vary significantly between providers. It's worth checking whether your local service accepts LED bulbs if you want to minimize the amount of household waste going to a landfill.

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Are Lightbulbs Recyclable?

Many components inside household lightbulbs are recyclable, including glass, metal and plastic elements. Furthermore, many jurisdictions require residents to recycle lightbulbs containing hazardous materials, such as CFL bulbs and fluorescent tubes.

Whether you can recycle other types of lightbulbs in your area depends on local recycling service guidelines. Some collection services accept certain bulb types, and you may be able to dispose of used lightbulbs at a recycling center. Alternatively, some mail-in recycling companies offer lightbulb disposal by post. These services provide containers for used lightbulbs, allowing you to mail used items for recycling.

Where and How Do You Dispose of Lightbulbs?

Generally, you can dispose of lightbulbs in your household waste unless they contain hazardous substances. If you want to recycle your lightbulbs, ask your curbside recycling program which types they accept or look for a local lightbulb disposal location using RecycleNation or another recycling center database.

Some homeware and DIY stores also offer lightbulb disposal in-store. For example, some Home Depot stores accept used LED and CFL lightbulbs.

Whether you decide to dispose of your used lightbulbs at home or at a recycling center, safety is crucial. Always wrap used bulbs before placing them in the trash or transporting them to a disposal site to prevent injuries from shattered glass.

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