Sustainability made simple

Are Light Bulbs Recyclable?

can you recycle light bulbs
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Wounds_and_Cracks

Can you recycle light bulbs? Most light bulbs are recyclable, but different kinds of bulbs should be disposed of in specific ways. We'll show you what to watch out for.

Light bulbs are recyclable, and it’s important for your health and the health of the planet to dispose of them properly. By recycling light bulbs and fluorescent tubes, you can help make sure that the toxic substances in them are dealt with efficiently.

Recycling companies manage the safe storage of dangerous ingredients like phosphor and mercury, ensuring they can do no harm. In many instances, the raw materials extracted from recycled light bulbs can be reused.

Toxic Chemicals like Mercury and Phosphor in Light Bulbs

Light bulbs can and should be recycled, because they might end up in landfills otherwise.
Light bulbs can and should be recycled, because they might end up in landfills otherwise.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / qimono)

Mercury is a pretty nasty element that can have a direct effect on both yourself and the larger ecosystem. If you throw compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) into the trash, they will end up in a landfill, which is definitely not a good outcome. The mercury released can seep down into groundwater and in the worst-case scenario, it can contaminate drinking water reservoirs.

Also found in fluorescent tubes and bulbs is phosphor, which is highly toxic in large quantities. Each light bulb will contain only a small amount of these chemicals, but in higher concentrations, they can be incredibly harmful to humans and animals – recycling light bulbs will only reduce these negative long-term effects.

If You Don't Recycle Light Bulbs, They'll End Up in Landfills

Our overall waste production is only increasing over time and the sad reality is that most of this ends up in landfills. As space slowly runs out for landfill disposals, it is becoming an urgent priority for us to lessen our reliance on landfills and look to more sustainable solutions for our waste products. Recycling light bulbs, which are produced in massive numbers every year, is a big step in the right direction.

Also interesting: Black Plastics: Why Are They So Bad for the Environment?

Light Bulb Materials Can Be Reused

The so-called tumbler will separate the components of the light bulbs and thereby make it recyclable.
The so-called tumbler will separate the components of the light bulbs and thereby make it recyclable.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / analogicus)

When recycled correctly, your used light bulbs and fluorescent tubes are first put through a complex machine known as a ‘tumbler’. This process will crush up the bulbs and at the same time will separate the various components. Metal, glass, phosphor, and mercury are all separated and stored and wherever possible, these raw materials will be used again.

How to Recycle the 4 Types of Light Bulbs

Recycling light bulbs means they won't end up in a landfill.
Recycling light bulbs means they won't end up in a landfill.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / MichaelTampakakis)

1. Incandescent light bulbs

Unfortunately, the only way to dispose of incandescent light bulbs is to throw them in the trash with other household waste. Although not considered hazardous, it is good to wrap them in newspapers to avoid sanitation workers being injured.

These older-style, less energy-efficient light bulbs are in fact recyclable, but ultimately, the process is not sustainable. The high amount of energy that is required to recycle them far exceeds the value of the salvaged materials in the end. When it comes to incandescent light bulbs, the best thing you can do for the environment is avoid them altogether.

2. Halogen Light Bulbs

Halogen light bulbs are recyclable, but not in your regular glass recycling bin. Instead, search online for a suitable drop-off location in your area. Halogen bulbs are made of quartz glass, which means they have a different melting point than regular glass. Just one halogen bulb can ruin an entire batch of recyclable glass items, leading to more waste and energy usage. 

3. Fluorescent Bulbs & Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs)

Fluorescent bulbs and CFLs should always be disposed of through your local recycling facility and in fact, in some states recycling fluorescent bulbs and CFLs is required by law. Regardless of where you live and whether it is law or not, recycling them is the best and only choice.

4. LED Lights

To recycle LED bulbs, you’ll need to find a specialized facility, as many regular recycling plants are not able to process LEDs. The extra effort is well worth it for the environment: LED lights can contain metals like lead, nickel, and copper, which can be extracted and re-purposed. 

Also interesting: How Closed-Loop Recycling Works

Where to Recycle Light Bulbs

Recycling your light bulbs safely is easy.
Recycling your light bulbs safely is easy.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Pexels)

Local Waste Collection Agency

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, visiting is the most direct and easy way to find out where you can recycle light bulbs and CFLs in your area.

Bear in mind that most collection agencies require a small fee for their services and different conditions may apply depending on what type of item you are recycling and whether it is for household or small business purposes.

Local Retailers

When you buy light bulbs, it’s a good idea to check directly with the store to see if they have a recycling collection. Not all stores in regional or nationwide chains may participate, and some stores may recycle only certain types of bulbs. Some of the major chain stores that do offer light bulb recycling include Ikea, Home Depot, Bartell Drugs, Lowe’s, TrueValue and Aubuchon Hardware.

Mail-Back Services

Many light bulb producers and organizations sell pre-labeled recycling kits that allow you to mail used bulbs to recycling centers. The cost of each kit includes shipping charges to the recycling center. You simply pack the kit with old bulbs, seal it, and post it.

For more information on both retailer recycling services and mail-back services in your area, visit

More About Recycling

There are so many consumer products where it’s unclear to many whether they are recyclable or not. Check out our guides on:

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