How To Dispose of LED Light Bulbs The Right Way?

As you may be aware, LED light bulbs are undoubtedly the best choice in the lighting market right now, and chances are to remain that way for a long time.

They’re relatively cheap, they last a long time, and they’re the most environmentally-friendly option available, next to using candles.

It was like a silent revolution. This new technology went from something talked about on television to something sold practically everywhere.

LED was only 8% of lighting sales in 2012. In 2019, LED sales spiked to 75% of the market.

And true to its claims, LED bulbs to count for only 2% of the waste stream which means most LED bulbs bought are still in use.

LED light bulbs contain chemicals that can be hazardous to people exposed to them. Therefore, extra effort must be made to dispose of them. Check your local stores if they have any recycling or take-back policy. Take extra precautions when cleaning a broken bulb.

You’d be surprised to learn that the lighting market takes up 20% of all the world’s generated electricity.

McKinsey forecasts that LEDs’ broader application can make 19 nuclear reactors in the U.S. redundant from LED’s energy savings, 17 nuclear reactors in China, and 7 in Japan.

In their own words, “the energy efficiency of LED exceeds that of other existing lighting technologies”.

With all its wonders, it’s no surprise that LED light bulbs are sophisticated.

The bottom line is, LED bulbs are made up of certain materials that need to be responsibly disposed of.

It’s nothing for you to be worried about, of course. It’s just like we used to with batteries. At one time, batteries were made with mercury in them, so it was illegal to throw them with your regular trash.

Well, LED light bulbs do require you to dispose of them just as responsibly. In this article, you’ll learn how to do just that (and why).

What Is The Lifespan Of LED Light Bulbs?

led light bulb

Before we get into all that, let’s talk about the lifespan of a light bulb. I’ll let you know why it matters in a second…

The average rated lifespan of the LED light bulb is typically up to 50,000 hours. An incandescent light bulb, on the other hand, lasts only 1,200 hours on average.

And as you’ve probably concluded, that means that you’ll go through more incandescent bulbs than LEDs, 41.6 more, to be precise.

So while there are extra precautions for disposing of LEDs, aren’t you glad that using them would save you money on the upfront cost of light bulbs?

I know I am. Plus, I also get to feel good that there’s less wastage in this world.

But another important thing about the lifespan is this: since the technology is new and the lifespan so long, there is very little research in the end-of-life phase of an LED light bulb.

Add to that the fact that there are very few LEDs in the household waste stream.

What you have is a situation where recycling plants have not yet figured out the best way to recycle these light bulbs.

Are LED Lights Hazardous Household Waste?

electronic waste

The short answer is yes, in a way.

LEDs do not contain mercury, which can be found in CFL bulbs. However, like all-electric equipment, LEDs contain hazardous materials like arsenic, nickel, lead, and silver.

These earth metals are vital for most electrical equipment’s performance, but they are harmful to humans in large doses.

Lead, for example, is a known neurotoxin that can be fatal, especially for children. Nickel can cause lung damage, possibly cancer. Arsenic’s lethalness can be gleaned from its popular nickname – “The Poison of Kings.”

Dangerous stuff, for sure, but do you need to be alarmed?

I don’t think so. For one, they’re all contained within the bulb safely.

The only danger an LED bulb poses to you is if it were to break, which doesn’t happen when it’s screwed into the ceiling nearly often enough for you to worry about.

Interestingly enough, low-intensity red LEDs have the highest amount of toxicity. The scientists gave it a score of 79, 100 being the most toxic a bulb can get.

A white LED bulb got a score of 30. I’m sure you’d agree that most houses use the latter kind of bulbs, which means most houses have pretty safe products lighting up their home.

So be mindful and be aware. Be extra vigilant if a light bulb breaks. But don’t lose sleep over it. And if you’re wondering what to do should an LED bulb break, keep on reading.

Can You Recycle LED Bulbs?

led bulb recycling

LED bulbs are recyclable. Ideally, this is what should happen. The rare earth minerals in these little orbs can be reused to recycle light bulbs. And that’s where the industry is heading to.

They’re making regulations to improve the end-of-life cycle of LED light bulbs as well as making light bulbs with less of these hazardous materials.

Good news for you a few years from now. The LED price goes down as more people use them, leading to a more energy-efficient society. Better waste management causes fewer problems in the ecosystem.

But we’re not there yet.

Your best bet is to check with your light bulb manufacturer and find out if they have any recycling program or take-back policy.

You can also check home improvement stores or lighting companies near you and ask if they recycle LED bulbs.

The problem with LED recycling is that bulbs contain a minuscule amount of electronic parts inside.

It is simply not viable for many local recycling facilities to recycle LED lights unless there is a substantial volume of bulbs.

But as I said earlier, the current state is that LEDs do last a long time and are relatively new in the market.

So my positive prediction is that in the future we will have more recycling programs available specifically for light bulbs.

How To Dispose LED Bulbs Correctly?

how to dispose light bulbs

As you probably realized, LED bulbs need to be treated and disposed of similarly to other electronics.

Light bulb recycling is an option you should explore, but here is what to do if it is not an option.

First of all, unlike CFL bulbs and incandescent bulbs, LED lights don’t utilize any chemical reactions, so you don’t need to wear a hazmat suit while cleaning a broken bulb.

Suppose the capacitor inside the LED can pop and bulb shutters to pieces. In that case, you will smell the fumes typical of electronic devices.

I will leave it up to you if you want to wear a mask and use gloves while cleaning up the mess.

Use the cardboard or broom to sweep the floor or surface with the small bulb components.

I would advise you to place all the broken pieces and the bulb into a sealable container. This is just to ensure that the sanitation workers don’t hurt themselves with the sharp glass pieces.

But also, if you just toss sharp pieces into the garbage bag, they can rip it off, and waste will drop out.

Place the container into the rubbish bin.

If you’re just throwing away an old, unbroken LED bulb, hold on a second and let me tell you what you can do with it.

What Should I Do With Unused Light Bulbs?light bulb craft

Keep them, of course! They’re not gas grenades that’ll explode for no reason. LED light bulbs are safe for the market and very reliable. Keep them in a safe place like a drawer, away from water or heat, and you’ll be fine.

Use them when one of your light bulbs go out. Now, if you’re using LED bulbs in your home, then you might have to wait a while!

An LED bulb with a rated lifespan of 50,000 hours used for 8 hours a day will last you around 17 years. That unused light bulb can be a redundant backup, but it’s always nice to know your home is ready for anything.

On the other hand, if you are a DIY enthusiast, take advantage of that. There is plenty of inspiration on how to reuse old bulbs on Pinterest.

And you’ll already know this, but it doesn’t hurt to say it, store light bulbs somewhere where the kids cannot get to them.

Now, let’s have a peak at other ways how you can help your community with unused light bulbs.

Offer Them to Friends and Neighbors


If you want to get rid of unused light bulbs that are still working, you can always give them to your neighbors.

It is true, that such a gesture will be much-appreciated since it will save time and money for them!

It is actually a nice thing to do to start building a relationship if you have moved into the new house, or perhaps someone new has joined your community.

Since LEDs do not produce a great deal of heat, in some applications this is undesirable.

Perhaps your friends are hatching eggs in an incubator that relies on the heat of an incandescent bulb? This way you could also get rid of those old unfriendly to energy use, incandescent bulbs.

Drop your friends and family a quick message.

What have you got to lose? At the very least they will appreciate the effort and the fact that you think about them.

Give Them Away on Freecycle

If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you can appreciate that it’s hard to say no to free stuff. But it’s a little bit selfish to take and never give anything back. So that’s why websites such as Freecycle exist.

Freecycle is a non-profit organization where people can give away unwanted items to others in their local community. Think of it a bit like eBay, but there are no bid wars, and everything is completely free.

For charities, the unemployed and people on a low income, and new homeowners, Freecycle can be game-changing.

There are all sorts listed on the platform from lawnmowers to wardrobes, so I’m sure unused light bulbs will go down a treat. After all, everyone needs lighting.

Donate to a Charity

If you’re looking for the most virtuous thing to do with unused bulbs, consider donating them to charity. This could be through a standard thrift store, i.e., your local Goodwill, or something more specific, like a charity for people with light sensitivities.

Health conditions such as Lupus and Photosensitivity can cause people to develop rashes and lesions, headaches, and their eyes to feel dry and inflamed when exposed to certain types of artificial light.

This is usually due to the high concentration of ultraviolet that the bulbs emit.

For this reason, LED bulbs which emit little to no UV, are extremely valuable.

This has obvious and unpleasant implications on people with light sensitivities, so donating unused bulbs can help to make their lives more comfortable.

Final Words

LED light bulbs contain harmful materials, but that shouldn’t lead you to worry, as the amount is tiny. Just be sure to take extra precautions if an LED bulb breaks.

The U.S. government says it’s not necessary to recycle. I don’t see it this way. Science has proven the dangers of throwing these bulbs in with your regular trash can lead to environmental damage. So your best bet is to recycle them.

  • I’m curious to know, though, what agencies do you use for your recycling?
  • Have you ever disposed of an LED bulb, or has it served you well all this time?

Let me know in the comments below!

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2 thoughts on “How To Dispose of LED Light Bulbs The Right Way?”

  1. Hi! Been using LED light bulbs since about 2017 and it has been the best choice since. I have several Torch lamps and use the 75 Watt equivalent (1100 Lumens) and there is actually a noticeable difference when using the Soft White vs the Daylight. I like bright so I use the Daylight in large areas like living room, dinning room and large bedroom but the soft white is good for smaller areas. I found your article since I now have about 3 or 4 that no longer work and was curious if they can be recycled. Came across another article and it stated that places like Home Depot and Lowes have Bins that will take the LED bulbs and LED Strip lights (Christmas Tree Lights). So far since using LED since 2017 and it now being 2021 these are the only ones that I have had to replace. I think that is an excellent deal.

    • Hi Jose,

      Thanks for sharing your experience. Yes there are more and more large DIY stores that are starting to make these programs to recycle LED bulbs.


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