What do you do with your old light bulbs?
Maybe you’ve replaced some bulbs after they have broken, or maybe you’ve just upgraded your style of lamp. Either way, you now have to dispose of those old light bulbs. Some types of lamps, like LEDs, are made of recyclable materials. Other types of lamps, such as fluorescent light bulbs or incandescent bulbs, are not made of materials that can go out with the regular recycling. These types of bulbs must instead be recycled through a light bulb recycling program.
Whether you are recycling your lamps or discarding them into the regular trash, it is very important to make sure you are disposing of old light bulbs—or any sharp objects—properly.
Before you discard a broken bulb—before you even clean one up off the floor—you need to check to see if the light bulb contains any hazardous materials. Fluorescent lamps and CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) contain mercury. Mercury is a toxin and exposure to mercury can put you at risk. If you have broken fixtures containing mercury, make sure you follow these steps for safe clean-up:
Other sharp objects, such as broken glass, razors blades, metal shards or medical sharps, should also be assessed for hazards before disposing of them. Items that are chemically or biologically contaminated need to be disposed of according to hazardous waste guidelines.
Sharp items, like broken bulbs, broken glass or metal shards, put handlers at risk of skin penetrating injuries. Handlers can be anyone from the person cleaning up the broken bulb to sanitation workers. Anyone who will be coming into reasonable contact with these materials is at risk of being injured. Even glass or old light bulbs that are intact could break during transport and become a potential risk. Because of this, it is important to properly seal glass and other sharp objects before disposing of them.
To help prevent injury, carefully place old light bulbs and other sharp waste items into a proper disposal container. The container should be sealable and should be able to prevent penetration. Good examples are used plastic containers, such as detergent or window cleaner bottles. You can also place your broken shards in a collapsed cardboard box and seal it with tape.
Containers with sharp objects should be labeled. The label can read “sharp objects” or “broken glass”—anything to warn handlers of the potential risk inside.
If you are disposing of broken glass or metal shards, you can just toss your clearly-marked container into your every-day recycling bin. However, most light bulbs are not made of materials that can be sent out with your regular recycling. This is especially true for lamps that may contain mercury. But many light fixtures of every type—regular fluorescent, incandescent, CFL—are eligible to be recycled through light bulb recycling programs. The EPA suggests searching through Earth 911 for recycling programs near you. You may also want to try your local retailers to see if they offer light bulb recycling, or have a drop-off location for your old light bulbs. You can also contact the lamp’s manufacturer, who may have mail-back services available to recycle your bulbs.
There are many options for recycling old light bulbs, with more becoming available all the time. If you are planning on changing out your light fixtures or upgrading to a new system, be sure to research the best recycling option for you before. It may also be a good idea to keep a list of your light bulb recycling centers on hand, for those unexpected breaks and replacements.
The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.
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