Many people deal with worn-out light bulbs by simply throwing them away. However, many of a light bulb’s parts can still be recycled depending on the type of light bulb.

But, homeowners must still be wary, for some parts of the bulb are hazardous when touched. So, which bulbs can you throw away versus recycle?

LED light bulbs, CFLs, and HID light bulbs can be recycled. Incandescent bulbs and halogen light bulbs, however, cannot. Recyclable light bulbs do not contain highly toxic components in high amounts. Still, the process of recycling bulbs is best left to recycling centers.

When I owned a commercial energy-efficient lighting retrofit company a few years ago, we always had to deal with bulb recycling on the projects. It is critical for your own safety, the environment, and to follow your local and federal laws to follow proper bulb disposal procedures.

But fret no more, this article will discuss the light bulbs you can still recycle and how. It will also identify the bulbs that are best thrown away once worn out. Let’s get started!

LED Light Bulbs

LED light bulbs are generally recyclable. In fact, 95 percent of an LED bulb is recyclable!

Several LED PAR lights against a blue background
You can easily tell if the bulb is an LED if it has yellowing spots inside it. These are the diodes that light up, driven by an LED driver/circuit board inside the bulb itself.

The glass and metal in the bulb can be recycled for other functions. Stores like IKEA, for example, have a recycling service that accepts old LED light bulbs.

Alternatively, you can go to your local recycling center. LED lights are very popular nowadays, leading to well-established recycling mechanisms.

Recyclers look for precious metals, which they extract through magnets after shredding the light bulb.

Another good thing about LED bulbs is that it has no hazardous chemicals.

Common LED chemicals include gallium nitride, indium gallium nitride, aluminum gallium nitride, and gallium arsenide. These pose very minimal effects on the environment.

Overall, LED light is the most energy efficient, providing high brightness at low energy requirements. The bulbs also last a very long time, averaging a lifespan of 25,000 hours.

You may crush the light bulb, but be careful when mixing it with other trash, as the shards may puncture the trash bag.

Incandescent Light Bulbs

A row of illuminated incandescent bulbs in a dark environment
You cannot recycle incandescent bulbs.

Unfortunately, incandescent light bulbs cannot be recycled. You mostly find these in old houses, for they were the most popular light bulb type before the introduction of LEDs.

Incandescent light bulbs produce light due to the tungsten filament inside. Electricity generates heat, creating a very bright light when tungsten warms up.

However, it’s not the tungsten that makes it non-recyclable. In fact, it is a highly recyclable material.

However, the makeup of the incandescent bulb involves very small metals, which, unfortunately, will not find use outside of the bulb.

Still, incandescent light bulbs do not contain hazardous materials and can be easily disposed of.

If you insist on recycling them, some centers accept them, but they are rare. This organization is one of the few that accepts throwaway incandescents.

If you choose to throw them away, be sure to wrap them properly using old newspapers or cardboard.

Although most glass can be melted and repurposed, glass from an incandescent bulb cannot. Therefore, it’s best to separate these bulbs from your glass waste.

Finally, don’t worry about the tungsten filament.

It hasn’t been documented as hazardous to humans, and exposure to high amounts of tungsten is rare. So you can dispose of these bulbs without worrying about safety concerns.

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

CFL light against dark blue background
Hold onto your CFLs, as you can recycle them.

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) can be recycled.

Like LEDs, nearly all components can be handed to your local recycling center. Recyclers look for mercury and aluminum in CFLs, which can be repurposed in many ways.

However, recyclers prefer that your worn-out CFL is intact and undamaged to make recycling easier.

The primary chemicals in a CFL are mercury and argon. If you dissect the tubes of a CFL, you may notice a white powder coating.

This coating is also coated with a fluorescent material. When the CFL receives a current, it reacts with mercury and argon to produce UV light.

When the UV light comes in contact with the glass tubing, white, visible light is produced, then emitted by the entire bulb.

Many stores willingly accept CFLs because they understand the impacts of mercury on the environment.

led and fluorescent tube lamps in a trash pile on the ground all mixed in

In fact, recycling CFL bulbs is one of the best ways to keep the environment safe from mercury.

Do not dispose of your CFLs in your regular trash. Instead, send them along for recycling.

Depending on where you live, you may be legally obligated to dispose of CFLs only at recycling centers.

Apart from the environmental concerns, mercury is notorious for its health implications.

While it doesn’t get absorbed by the skin instantly, constant exposure to mercury may lead to stomach issues, eye irritation, difficulty breathing, headaches, and exhaustion.

Workers still choose to work with it, however, because it has a lot of uses in everyday life. They extract mercury using bio-trickling filters and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria.

This mechanism pulls 99 percent of the mercury in a CFL.

Halogen Light Bulbs

a closeup of a halogen bulb with a blue background
Halogen light bulbs contain halogen gas and are ineligible for recycling.

You cannot recycle halogen light bulbs due to the halogen gas inside. When halogen comes in contact with the air, the air quality drops, and ozone is formed.

Ozone is a strong pollutant and a significant greenhouse gas.

Aside from that, it can degrade crops quite rapidly, which is why most recyclers do away with it entirely.

It can also lead to asthma and other acute lung infections if inhaled.

Besides that, halogen light bulbs are a lot less efficient than LED. Although cheaper, they consume a lot more energy and do not last as long, requiring more bulb changes.

If your halogen light bulb wears out, you can wrap it in paper, bubble wrap, or cardboard and throw it in the bin.

High-Intensity Discharge Bulbs

You can recycle high-intensity discharge bulbs (HIDs) by handing them to your nearest recycling center.

Like CFLs, HIDs contain a considerable amount of mercury which various industries look for. However, you probably won’t find this at home since it’s mainly used for street lighting.

But if you come across it, the primary recyclable components are mercury, aluminum, and glass. The mercury is distilled for dental amalgams, and the glass is shredded for home insulators.

Recyclers also use magnets to separate the valuable materials after the bulb is crushed.

HID bulbs also make use of tungsten. When the bulb is charged with electricity, it passes through tungsten electrical conductors and ionized gas.

As you may know, tungsten lights up whenever it is heated. Besides that, the electricity helps evaporate the metal salts in the bulb.

a forklift driving in a warehouse with metal halide light fixtures lighting up the aisle it's in
If you use HID lights around the house, you can recycle them.

Overall, it’s a very eco-friendly light bulb type with minimal hazard risks.

Like all the other bulb types, you can temporarily dispose of HID lamps by wrapping them in plastic or bubble wrap before sending them to the recycler.

Mercury Vapor Bulb

You can recycle a mercury vapor bulb, but recycling is best left to the experts.

Mercury poses many health risks, so separating the bulb from the rest of the trash would be better.

These bulb types are similar to HIDs.

Electricity passes through an arc and produces light through the vaporized mercury after sufficient heating. It’s an efficient bulb and lights fairly well, but the problem is the mercury itself.

You cannot dispose of it in soil because it becomes toxic methylmercury when mixed with sediments.

Once smaller animals ingest methylmercury, it becomes part of the food chain. Pretty soon, it will find its way onto your plate!


IKEA: A Recycling Service For All Our Customers IUPAC: Light Emitting Diodes  GE Lighting: A Guide To Energy Efficient Lighting  Mat Match: Tungsten Recycling An Overview  Batteries Plus: Recycling Service For Customers

EPA: What Are The Connections Between Mercury And CFLs? Irjet: Extraction Of Mercury From CFLs  NCBI: Halogen Inhalation-Induced And Acute Respiratory Syndrome  Business Recycling AU: HID Lamps  S Touch Lighting: LED Versus HID Lights  DES: Mercury – Sources, Transport, Deposition And Impacts

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