Invented in 1879, light bulbs are an essential part of our daily lives. Even though newer technology has ensured a longer life for light bulbs, we can all occasionally hear the faint pop when we turn on a switch.
So, what do we do when one of the light bulbs in our homes pop out? Do we throw them away for the landfills? Or is there a more responsible and environmentally safe way to do so?
Are light bulbs recyclable? Yes, mostly light bulbs are recyclable. Not only is it the cleaner and greener option, but some light bulbs must also be recycled since the components of said light bulbs can cause severe damage to our environment. There are mainly four types of bulbs- incandescent, fluorescent (CFL), LED, and halogen. All of these have different disposal methods.
If you are wondering how to dispose of a light bulb, you’ve come to the right place. Stay with us till the end of this article, and we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the safe disposal methods of light bulbs.
We’ll also include creative DIYs using light bulbs and why some types of bulbs need to be recycled.
Types of Light Bulbs
For the purpose of recycling, most light bulbs fit into one of the following categories:
1. Incandescent light bulbs
Incandescent light bulbs are old-school bulbs with the original bulb shape. These are the least energy-efficient and least expensive light bulbs.
They have a very short life compared to other types of bulbs, and cannot be easily recycled.
The process of recycling incandescent bulbs can be challenging, and the energy required is not worth the salvaged material in the long run.
The good news is, they do not contain any hazardous components and can easily be thrown out with the trash.
However, for the safety of sanitation workers, wrap them in newspapers and never throw a broken light bulb in the trash.
2. Fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
Fluorescent bulbs are the most used light bulbs in households and come in those funny, swirly, and loopy designs.
These bulbs are the most energy-efficient and last much longer (for about 50,000 hours) than the traditional incandescent bulbs.
The only problem with using these bulbs is the fact that they contain mercury.
Although safe to use at home, they can be toxic to both the environment and humans if they are disposed of recklessly.
In fact, the mercury content in them is even known to cause developmental problems in unborn children. We will elaborate more on this topic later in this article.
These bulbs should never, ever be thrown in the trash unless your municipality specifically tells you to do so.
What should you do if you’ve accidentally broken a CFL bulb in your house?
If you have accidentally shattered a CFL light bulb inside your house, the first step is: don’t panic. The amount of mercury in a single light bulb is very little, just about enough to cover the tip of a ballpoint pen.
In this quantity, mercury is extremely unlikely to cause any harm. All you need to do is follow the steps given below for minimum exposure, and you will be good to go.
1. To avoid breathing in any mercuric vapor, open a window and vacate the area around the light bulb for about half an hour.
2. You can use some stiff paper to pick up the larger glass pieces and duct tape for the smaller and powdered ones.
3. Don’t try to vacuum the glass pieces, or you might end up wrecking your vacuum machine. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel.
4. Place all the extracted material inside an air-tight container. Bring this container to your nearest collection site for recycling.
5. Remember to clean your hands thoroughly after handling the container.
3. Halogen light bulbs
Halogen light bulbs are typically used for vehicular headlights or work lights. Though these bulbs are brighter than old-school incandescent bulbs, they produce a great amount of heat and are high-energy consumers.
Although recyclable, halogen bulbs can also be thrown in the trash, with some care. Try to wrap the bulb in newspapers, or better yet, put it in a box, preferably not too bigger than the bulb itself.
If you want to recycle halogen bulbs, don’t put them in your glass recycling bin. This is because the quartz glass used in manufacturing these bulbs melts at a different temperature than other glass jars and bottles.
So, a single bulb might ruin a whole batch of recyclable glass material.
Instead, you can ask your local waste management center if they have a special collection policy for the recycling of halogen.
4. Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs
LEDs are often referred to as a brighter, longer-lasting alternative to incandescent bulbs. Like halogen light bulbs, these can also be recycled or thrown away in the trash.
However, unlike those bulbs, LEDs contain hazardous metals like copper, nickel, or lead. Although these metals are not as harmful as mercury, it isn’t good for the environment if all these metals start getting collected at landfills.
Unfortunately, the majority of the recycling companies and centers do not possess the equipment required to recycle these bulbs.
So, when you’re putting these bulbs out with the trash, remember to either wrap them in newspapers or put them in a (not too large) box.
Where to Recycle Light Bulbs?
Now, many of you may be first-timers at recycling light bulbs. Don’t worry; in this section, we’ll be talking about some places where you can recycle them conveniently and safely.
1. Curbside recycling
If you happen to have a curbside recycling service by the municipality or a private company, you can start your search at the service’s website. It should have a well-explained list of materials that are accepted.
Some of them might even have a list of the objects that are not accepted. However, you should not expect them to accept light bulbs.
This is because curbside recycling is a rough-and-tumble process, and we cannot afford to have the bulbs shattering in the middle of the procedure due to their mercuric composition.
2. Recycling centers
You can also reach out to a nearby recycling center with an online presence.
You can search for different types of light bulbs, and you might find out that they accept some materials you didn’t even know were recyclable.
3. Mail-in recycling
If you live in a remote area where curbside recycling and recycling centers are not an option, you can opt for mail-in recycling.
Although it is expensive, mail-in recycling is a safe and convenient way to recycle your light bulbs and other waste products.
All you have to do is go to their website, order a prepaid and durable container online, then just fill it with your waste and send it back.
Why is it important to recycle light bulbs?
In the previous section, we discussed the recyclability of the most commonly available types of light bulbs.
Now, in this section, we will talk about why recycling them is important and responsible.
In the previous section, we discussed the recyclability of the most commonly available types of light bulbs. Now, in this section, we will talk about why recycling them is important and responsible.
1. Mercury Light Bulbs proved to be dangerous.
If you throw your CFL bulbs out with your trash, it is carried straight to a landfill. Once there, the bulbs almost always get shattered under the weight of other heavy waste objects. This causes the mercury in the bulbs to seep into the landfill groundwater and produce contaminated leachate, which might affect our drinking supply.
CFL bulbs also contain phosphorus, which can be toxic in large quantities.
Although each bulb contains a very small quantity of these metals, a build-up of them can still be very harmful to the environment and for us.
However, when you recycle these bulbs, all these metals are safely handled and stored.
2. Landfill space is running out
The world’s waste production is increasing all the time, and most of the waste still goes to landfills. An astonishingly large number of people still don’t know or understand the concept of recycling and reusing. Moreover, there are still a vast number of objects that cannot be recycled at all.
The landfills are filling up at a rapid speed, and according to statistics, in about 18 years, the USA will have no landfill space, which will create an environmental disaster.
3. Too many landfills can also harm our planet
Even if we do manage to get the amount of waste production under our control in the next 18 years, there will still be problems.
Even now, the soil in the places around landfills is at risk of severe chemical contamination. If the leachates leak into the groundwater, the aquatic life in the surrounding water bodies will also be endangered.
While most landfills are securely and responsibly sealed and contained, they can still be harmful to the environment and to our health.
Even a single light bulb disposed of properly should be counted as a significant contribution by you.
4. Raw materials of a light bulb can be reused
Of course, the most important advantage of recycling is that we can retain some of the energy used in manufacturing the product.
For example, aluminum needs around 96% less energy when produced from recycled cans than being produced from raw materials.
By recycling a single glass bottle, one can save enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for around 4-5 hours.
And of course, recycling a light bulb gives their old parts a new life, rather than adding to a landfill that will be around for possibly 1,000 years.
In this article, we discussed the recyclability of the different types of light bulbs and the need to recycle them. We also talked about the places where you can recycle light bulbs conveniently and responsibly.