How to Dispose of Your Old Light Bulbs
Let’s be really honest here folks, many of us do not think twice about how to dispose of our old light bulbs. When our light bulbs finally burn out, our instincts usually point us towards the yellow recycling bin. Glass? Check. Metal? Check. That should be the right decision, correct? Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Light bulbs are one of those things that are tricky to dispose of.
Light bulbs should never go into our household recycling bins. Unlike the packaging glass used for bottles and jars, light bulbs are manufactured differently which makes them more prone to shattering and can contaminate the contents of your recycling bin. Improper disposal can also potentially cause hazardous chemicals like mercury, lead and arsenic to leak, which are harmful to both humans and the environment.
So how should we dispose of these old light bulbs? It turns out, different types of light bulbs require different methods of disposal. Check out our light bulb disposal chart below for information on how you should dispose or better yet, recycle the various bulb types you may have around the house.
Incandescent and halogen globes
For many years, incandescent and halogen bulbs have been the most common light bulbs for many Australian homes. These types of light bulbs now make up a large portion of old light bulbs as they are replaced by their much more energy efficient LED or CFL counterparts.
Many cities today do not accept incandescent or halogen light bulbs at their recycling centres. Please contact your local council to find out any programs available to recycle incandescent or halogen light bulbs. Fortunately though, most incandescent and halogen bulbs contain little to none toxic materials. This means they can be thrown away safely in your general waste bin.
Recommended disposal method for halogen and incandescent bulbs:
- Non-toxic materials mean they are safe to be disposed in general waste bins.
- Wrap the old incandescent or halogen bulb in paper or plastic to avoid the bulb from shattering and hurting someone.
Compact fluorescent lamp, or CFL is easily recognisable with its unique spiral design. Old CFL globes and fluorescent tubes will require extra special treatment when it comes to disposing them. CFL or fluorescent tubes should never be thrown into landfill because they contain a small amount of mercury, which are harmful to humans and to the environment if leaked into the regular waste stream.
Recommended disposal method for all fluorescent and CFL bulbs:
- Toxic materials mean they are NOT safe to be disposed in general waste bins.
- Old fluorescent-based bulbs should be taken to your nearest recycling or waste disposal centres for safe disposal.
LED globes are the latest technology in lighting. While their advantages over other types of bulbs are crystal clear, opinions about their disposal is less clear cut. Many advocates suggest that LED globes contain no dangerous chemicals and as such, can be disposed in landfill in the same manner as incandescent globes and halogen globes. However, others suggest that LED globes may contain traces of other hazardous substances such as lead and arsenic.
As LED bulbs are made of valuable materials which can be recycled, recycling is the better option rather than throwing them out and potentially damaging the environment.
Recommended disposal method for LED bulbs:
- Potentially toxic materials mean recycling is the better option rather than disposing them in general waste bins.
- Old LED bulbs should be taken to your closest recycling centres for safe disposal and recycling. Disposal through general waste bins is the last viable option.
Recycling and waste disposal centres
There are numerous recycling and waste disposal centres in Australia. Here are some options to get you started:
- Your local council drop off facilities
- Retailer Ikea recycling drop-off points
- Private waste companies
Visit Recycling Near You to search for all available recycling or waste disposal centres. If your workplace or business has large quantities of light bulbs to recycle or dispose of, visit Business Recycling to find suitable service options.
How to deal with breakages
All breakages should be dealt with appropriate precautions. In the event of a breakage, move away from the danger area and wear a pair of shoes or slippers before attending to the breakage. Carefully clean the whole area and ensure that all pieces of the shattered light bulb are removed before wrapping them in paper. Dispose them in the general waste bin (EXCEPT fluorescent-based bulbs) and never in the recycling bin.
If you break a CFL bulb (which contains mercury), you must:
- Turn off all ceiling fans and air conditioning units.
- If the CFL bulb is warm, leave the room for 20 – 30 minutes before attending to the breakage.
- Avoid using a vacuum cleaner as it may spread the mercury in the air.
- Put on a mask and wear disposable rubber gloves rather than bare hands.
- Use a tool to collect the broken glass and powder and put them in few layers of plastic bags or a glass jar with a lid.
- Wipe the area with a damp cloth or paper towel and put the used cloth or paper towel in the same plastic bags or glass jar before sealing it.
- Hand the plastic bag or glass jar to a nearby recycling or waste disposal centre.
Now that you have the knowledge to dispose of your old light bulbs safely, it is up to you whether this knowledge will be put to use. By ensuring that your old light bulbs are disposed of and recycled correctly, you will play your part in preserving our environment and human health.