Most household light bulbs simply get thrown into the trash, despite the fact that, depending on the type of bulb you’re throwing away, this can be dangerous.
Some of the light bulbs you use every day contain harmful chemicals like arsenic, lead, and mercury. If they’re thrown into the regular landfill, these chemicals could seep into the groundwater and even end up contaminating our drinking water.
While many light bulbs can be recycled, they tend to be items you can’t recycle in the traditional manner. And while most Canadian municipalities won’t accept them in blue bins, you can still safely hand them over to someone who can get them in the right place.
So, let’s dig into how you can go about recycling your light bulbs in a safe and efficient manner.
Why do we care about recycling light bulbs?
Some light bulbs contain toxic chemicals, like mercury, that definitely shouldn’t make their way into the landfills. Even in the small amount that you’ll find in a light bulb, mercury can seep into the landfill groundwater and eventually contaminate our drinking water, harming the health of the community.
Even if the chemicals weren’t a problem, we have limited space in our landfills, so redirecting materials that can be dealt with in other ways is a good idea. Not to mention that landfills pollute the ground and water systems around them.
Plus, many of the raw materials used in light bulbs can be used to make other things. Reusing materials, like aluminum, helps us cut down on the energy that we would use when producing new materials.
So, recycling your light bulbs is good for the environment and helps to reduce unnecessary waste in the landfills, hopefully making sure they grow at a slightly slower rate.
How to recycle light bulbs by type
Recycling your light bulbs is important, but how exactly do you do it? Let’s go over the different types of light bulbs you might come across and go over how to properly dispose of them.
It’s important to note that you should always check with your local facilities to ensure that the information below is the proper way to dispose of a light bulb, based on your municipality’s rules.
How to recycle incandescent light bulbs
Incandescent light bulbs are not considered toxic waste, so they won’t be harming any groundwater. The good news is that they can be recycled. But the bad news is, the cost of the process to recycle incandescents often outweighs the benefit we get from it so it might be hard to find somewhere to recycle them.
You can take a look at ProductCare to see if there is a nearby place that will accept incandescent bulbs for recycling. If there isn’t anywhere in your jurisdiction that you can recycle these types of light bulbs but you’re feeling a little creative, incandescent bulbs make for great upcycled Christmas ornaments or mini vases.
If you do opt to throw them in the trash, it might be a good idea to wrap them in something to help prevent injuries for the sanitation workers, especially if the bulb is broken.
How to recycle halogen light bulbs
Halogen bulbs are also not toxic, so they won’t be ruining the groundwater either. But just because you can throw them in the trash can doesn’t mean that you should.
You can recycle halogen light bulbs, though you don’t want to throw them with regular bulbs because the glass inside it is quartz which isn’t recycled the same way as regular glass. Instead, you’ll need to find a specific location that can take them.
How to recycle compact fluorescent light or CFLs
Compact fluorescent lights or CFLs are big culprits when it comes to being careful about your disposal choice because they contain mercury. Granted, it’s a small amount of it, but this is not a chemical we want seeping into our drinking water.
Because they use less energy than other bulbs, CFLs are popular. But they can be a little tricky to dispose of due to their status as hazardous waste material; most city recycling facilities won’t take them.
You’ll want to double-check with your local facility to see where they can be dropped off—for example, in Calgary, CFLs (along with other hazardous waste) can be safely disposed of via designated fire halls. You might also be able to drop these off at your local Lowes, IKEA, or Rona to be recycled.
How to recycle fluorescent tubes
Like CFLs, fluorescent tubes contain small amounts of mercury that shouldn’t be thrown into the landfill. Beyond the fact that they contain mercury, fluorescents are also considered general hazardous waste because they’re long and break easily—so make sure you’re careful when you handle them.
To dispose of them properly, you’ll need to find a local program that can recycle them. For example, in Toronto, they can be disposed of through Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) Depots.
How to recycle LED light bulbs
When it comes to LED light bulbs, GreenTech Solutions says that 95 percent of them can be recycled, including both the glass and metal used to make them. That said, it can be expensive to do so. Many Canadian cities, like Calgary, Waterloo, and Toronto, ask residents to throw these in your regular black trash bin. So double-check to see if yours does.
However, if you’d like to try and give your light bulb a second life with a recycled product, big box stores in many Canadian cities will accept these for recycling. Check to see if your local Lowes or IKEA will allow you to drop them off instead of putting them in the landfill.
Where can I recycle light bulbs by province?
Every jurisdiction handles the disposal of materials like light bulbs differently, so what you do with them will vary depending on where you live. You might need to do a little bit of searching to find out where they can go, but here are a few places you can start looking:
- Alberta: Aevitas Alberta’s Recycle-By-Mail program allows you to recycle small quantities of light bulbs for a small, affordable price.
- British Columbia, Manitoba, PEI and Quebec: Use ProductCare to find recycling programs near you.
- Ontario: You’ll need to do a detailed check close to you, but both Lowes Recycling Centres and the Ontario Lamp Recycling Company could help you unload your CFLs.
- Saskatchewan: Check out K-Light recycling to see if they can help you out.
- New Brunswick: Southwest Recycles might be able to help you with non-CFC recycling.
- Nova Scotia: Dan-X Recycling can help you dispose of CFLs.
It should also be noted that most IKEA stores in Canada accept goods like batteries and lightbulbs for recycling, so call yours to see if they do too!
Recycling light bulbs isn’t impossible, it just takes a little extra effort.
If you want more tips and tricks about implementing sustainable practices in your life, download the GarbageDay app to get them delivered right to your smartphone. Sustainability happens one step at a time!