If you’ve upgraded your home’s old-fashioned light bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs), you already know you’re saving energy and money, reducing emissions from power plants, and minimizing waste. However, you may be discovering that you need to recycle these new light bulbs differently—you can’t just throw them in the trash.
While CFLs can last up to seven years and LEDs as long as 23 years (learn more about choosing the right light for your life), you’ll eventually need to know how to dispose of them properly.
Today, CFLs are in over 70 percent of U.S. homes. But because they contain a small amount of mercury, disposal can be a little tricky.
CFLs are perfectly safe as long as they stay intact. However, if you toss them in the garbage, they’ll probably break before they even reach the landfill, immediately jeopardizing the health of waste management workers and eventually poisoning nearby land or water sources.
When your CFL’s time is up, it’s essential that you find an Environmental Protection Agency-approved CFL recycling site. If a CFL breaks in your home, follow these steps:
- Put on protective clothing, gloves, and a mask to shield yourself from the dust.
- Collect all the broken bits into an airtight container using a damp paper towel.
- Turn off all central air and fans for 15 minutes.
- Take the light bulb to a recycling site.
You don’t have to worry about mercury with LEDs, but they do contain nickel, some lead, and even trace amounts of arsenic. When used properly, these lights are risk-free, but they have significant health hazards when they’re left in a landfill.
More than 95 percent of an LED bulb is recyclable; simply call your local waste management company to learn its policies for collecting and recycling. The recycling process will separate the glass from the other elements, all of which will eventually be recycled and reused.
Since CFLs and LEDs are so efficient (you can thank a 2007 law that went into effect earlier this year), you won’t really have to think about disposing of them very often. But you will think about the money you’re saving every time you open your electricity bill.
Annie Josey is a blogger for Pegasus Lighting, a nationally recognized lighting retailer committed to helping every customer have a sustainable lighting experience—from first spark to last light.