The Whys and Hows of Light Bulb Recycling
This post has been brought to you by CEE’s Green Team, an interdepartmental alliance of CEE staff devoted to making sure our organization walks the walk of practical environmentalism. This resource and blog post compiled with notable contributions from Green Team members, Jeremy Taylor, Eric Larsen and Brady Steigauf.
Where would we be without the humble light bulb? The advent of the simple device gave us the ability to brighten inside and outside spaces, which had countless implications for productivity, safety, and quality of life. Recent decades have seen substantial advances in light bulb technology, with the old incandescent bulbs having been replaced more efficient types like light emitting diode (LED) and compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs.
One of the key services provided in a home energy audit is bulb replacement. At the end of a visit, homeowners are left with energy- and money-saving bulbs in their appliances, and also with a box full of the old light bulbs. Like these homeowners, you may have had cause to ask yourself, what do I do with these inefficient or dead light bulbs?
Here’s your solution: Recycle them! Light bulb recycling rarely gets the same attention as glass, paper, or metal, but it is very important for our environment and our health for the following reasons:
The raw materials inside light bulbs can be reused. Reusing these materials (e.g., metal, glass) helps avoid additional drain on energy and resources that would be required to make entirely new bulbs.
There are hazardous materials inside some bulbs. For example, CFLs contain mercury, which, if dumped into a landfill, could seep into ground water and contaminate drinking supply.
Depending on where you live, it may be prohibited by law to through bulbs in the trash. Such laws exist to encourage reuse and avoid hazardous material contamination, as well as to avoid tossing more into already-overloaded landfills.
Download the handout below for a list of local places that can properly dispose of old light bulbs.
Check your local hardware store or municipal recycling center for more incandescent and halogen recycling options. The CFL/LED recycling locations listed may also take incandescent or halogen bulbs, but we encourage you to call for more details. There may be additional recycling locations available to you that are not listed here.
New York Times: America’s Light Bulb Revolution
EPA: Recycling and Disposal of CFLs and Other Bulbs that Contain Mercury
Home Energy Squad®