Although light bulbs are encased in glass, they cannot be recycled in regular office or household recycle bins. Light bulbs that contain mercury or other toxic elements typically need to be recycled as hazardous waste, while all other light bulbs can usually be disposed of in the regular trash.

Dispose of incandescent light bulbs

Most cities do not accept traditional incandescent light bulbs or halogen lamps in their recycling program, so they are typically disposed of in the regular trash. Incandescent light bulbs break easily, so protect the workers who pick up your trash by wrapping them in paper or other protective material before disposing of them in the garbage. 

Although burnt out light bulbs are not easily recycled, working light bulbs can be! If you have transitioned to CFL or LED lighting and still have working incandescent light bulbs laying around, consider posting them for free on Craigslist, or donating them to a local organization that builds homes for families in need.

Recycle compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL) and tubes

CFL compact fluorescent bulbs

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and fluorescent tubes contain a small amount of mercury, which is considered hazardous. As a result, fluorescent lighting should be recycled at the local hazardous waste facility. Several national hardware stores and home goods retailers offer free CFL recycling; some may also collect fluorescent tubes. Earth911’s recycling database makes it easy to find a collection center nearby. (Note: Many of these stores also recycle rechargeable batteries.)

You can safely store CFL bulbs for a neighborhood collection day or until it is convenient to drop them off. Simply line a sturdy cardboard box with heavy plastic or use a plastic container with a lid to keep the CFL bulbs safe.

Dispose of broken CFL bulbs and fluorescent tubes

To safely clean up and dispose of broken fluorescents, leave the room and allow it to air out for 10 minutes. Turn off central heat and air immediately (and for several hours after cleanup) to avoid spreading the mercury vapors that are released from broken fluorescent bulbs and tubes.

Do not vacuum the broken fragments or dust. Instead, scoop up larger pieces with cardboard or stiff paper, and use duct tape to collect smaller fragments and powder. Wipe down the area with a damp paper towel and place all cleanup materials and debris into a glass jar or double-plastic bag. If your hazardous household waste facility does not accept broken bulbs, then seal the jar or bag and dispose of it with regular household trash.

Specialty bulbs                                   

Light-emitting diode (LED) lights contain hazardous materials, but they are not yet widely accepted at waste facilities. That said, check Earth911’s recycling database before throwing LED lights in the trash. Many hazardous waste programs that do not collect LEDs will make an exception for Christmas tree lights.

High-intensity discharge (HID) lights, ultraviolet lamps, neon lamps, metal halide lights, and the ballasts that hold fluorescent tubes are all considered hazardous waste and should be disposed of at the local hazardous waste facility.