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How to Recycle Lightbulbs
The Environmental Protection Agency states the mercury from one florescent light bulb can pollute 6,000 gallons of water beyond safe drinking levels. Because some light bulbs contain mercury, tossing them into the trash will add toxins to the environment. In seven states, California, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, it is illegal to dispose of fluorescent bulbs as universal waste. A simple household light bulb might be difficult to recycle, but it is not impossible.
Step 1: Contact your local city hall
Contacting your town or city hall is the first step to finding out where to recycle your light bulbs. If you are not sure about their schedule for collecting hazardous waste, your state regulatory agency will be able to provide you with instructions. The majority of household hazardous waste facilities collect light bulbs and florescent light bulbs.
Step 2: Investigate and utilize online light bulb recycling programs
If your community does not have a regularly scheduled drop off or does not have a clear law, the EPA recommends you consider an online recycling program. These programs provide information as to how to locate recycling programs in your area or provide an opportunity to recycle directly through the online recycling organization. Some online light bulb recycling organizations will ship out postage-paid packages, as well as information on shipping multiple bulbs. They will also provide safety bags and packaging instructions, and may even call a courier for easy pick-up from your home.
Step 3: Recycle light bulbs in bulk
Certainly it is easier to recycle light bulbs in bulk, rather than one at a time. Keep a bin available and collect your used bulbs as you go. You may also organize a neighborhood project and have everyone participate. Going around the neighborhood and having the kids help collect used light bulbs is a great way to guide the little ones toward becoming environmentally conscious adults.
Step 4: Recycle CFLs and incandescents
Compact Fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) contain mercury and, as hazardous waste, the protocol for safely recycling them may be different from town to town. Some companies, like Ikea and The Home Depot, do have a free take-back program for CFLs they have sold. There are also green websites that can help point you toward recycling programs in your area.
While in many areas incandescent light bulbs, which do not contain mercury, can still be legally thrown in the trash, it is still a good idea to get in the habit of recycling. Checking with your city or town will guide you as to the best and safest way to dispose of incandescent light bulbs. If your town only suggests tossing these in the trash, check with major retailers. Ikea, for example, offers both CFL and incandescent bulb recycling programs.