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How to dispose of cfl bulbs sustainably?

Disposing of things responsibly is one of the most important things we can do to curtail our damage to the environment. With the growing problem of landfill, we must try and reuse as many items as possible – but sometimes, we can’t reuse things. CFL bulbs when broken or at the end of their life cycle can be one of these items that we cannot reuse. The question is, when it’s ready to be thrown out – what are we supposed to do with them?

What Exactly Are CFL Bulbs?

CFL standard for compact fluorescent lamp, and it is a type of lightbulb that is the most commonly used in households. They are an energy saving lightbulb and are the better choice when it comes to choosing light bulbs such as incandescent ones. 

There are three types of lightbulb; compact fluorescent lamps, LED lights and halogen lights.  Over the years, light bulbs have become a big market, with many different choices but the best choice was to switch from incandescent to CFL light bulbs. 

How to dispose of cfl bulbs

The old incandescent lightbulb used to work by a filament that became heated and glowed. Energy effectively, was used to generate heat and light. Whereas, the CFL light bulb does not contain a filament because they use a current of electricity to make gasses react within the bulb leading to a phosphorus coat around the inside of the bulb – providing light. 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of CFL Bulbs?

CFL bulbs offer a great mix of the ability to save energy and save you money, both in purchase price and in energy bills. CFLs generally have a long life too, up to around a decade! LEDs do last longer though, whereas halogen light bulbs come nowhere near. 

CFL light bulbs do have some downsides though. Probably the most well known downsides to a CFL lightbulb is the fact that they don’t light up quickly. As time has gone on, CFL light bulbs have improved for this sort of issue, but they’re still not instantly bright. This can be problematic when people want areas in their home lit up instantly, like the bathroom or on the stairs. 

How to recycle light bulbs

CFLs also contain mercury which can be dangerous to handle and complicate the disposal process (which we’ll get to). Another issue with CFLs is that they aren’t suitable for dimmer switches, which have become a very popular choice in people’s homes. 

Other problems that CFLs have is that they can’t be used outside because they do not operate correctly in cold temperatures. This can be problematic for people who live in colder areas, or people that want energy saving bulbs for their outdoor areas. 

Is It Worth Getting A CFL Lightbulb?

Aside from LED lights, the CFL light bulb is the most energy efficient lightbulb you can buy, so it’s definitely worth looking into when investing in bulbs. They’re generally cheaper than LEDs too, so if you want to stick to a lightbulb that is more environmentally friendly, then stay with LED light bulbs. The only thing you’ll need to consider next, which is the crux of this question – how do you dispose of a CFL light if it is broken or it has come to the end of its life?

Disposing Of CFL Bulbs 

CFL bulbs can last almost a decade or so, but eventually there will come a time when you need to get rid of them. Due to their content of mercury, it’s imperative that you are careful when disposing of them. Unlike incandescent bulbs, CFL light bulbs can be recycled. 

what to do with used light bulb

Preparing For The Recycling Of CFL Bulbs 

When you’re about to recycle a CFL bulb, you need to follow these steps:

  • If you’re removing a CFL bulb from the lamp, you’ll need to ensure that the lamp is switched off or disconnected. If it is in a wall, turn the power off from its source. If you don’t, you risk electrocution. 
  • If you have a broken bulb, you can’t recycle CFL bulbs unfortunately. You can recycle its materials such as glass that has been scattered, but due to its mercury content, you may need to visit a hazardous household waste disposal facility. 

Mercury can be dangerous to water streams due to its toxic nature, and due to this – some states have fully outlawed the landfill disposal of CFL light bulbs. When a CFL light bulb is properly recycled, it will be sent to a special recycler that will be able to break down the bulb and extract the mercury. This mercury, which is a precious metal, can be reused in new CFL bulbs that are created. The aluminum will be collected as scrap metal which can be used in ceramic or concrete. 

Can CFL Bulbs Be Collected Kerbside?

You may be wondering if you can simply recycle your CFL bulbs on the kerbside. The answer is typically no. There are exceptions like in California, there are a number of cities that will allow it – but generally you will be provided with specific disposal bags and kits that will help you dispose of your CFL bulb. 

How to recycle light bulbs

What Are My Other Options?

Antifreeze, batteries, oil and paint (ABOP) has its own facility, and CFL bulbs can be recycled in this facility – which you can find in Home Depot or Ikea, along with some other stores. Failing this, you can use a mail-back service like Ecolights, but you may have to pay a small fee for the service. 


Reusing and recycling has never been more important, so if we can continue to find ways to economically use and reuse our items, we are all going to benefit.

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