- Editor’s Note: This recycling-tips article was written by Kane County Recycling Coordinator Clair Ryan. Got a question or idea for a recycling tip? Contact Clair at 630-208-3841 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Much like batteries, which I covered in an earlier article, how to best dispose of a spent lightbulb depends a lot on the type of bulb you have. Most folks know at this point that the incandescent bulbs that most of us in the millennial generation and older grew up with are no longer ideal.
They are inefficient, since they lose most of their energy as heat instead of light. From a solid waste perspective, they aren’t great either, since regular trash and ultimately the landfill is the only disposal route.
For a long time, environmental programs were advocating that home owners switch out their incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which are recognizable by their squiggly tube configuration.
CFLs are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs, but there’s a problem on the solid waste side — they contain a teeny tiny amount of mercury, which is an acute neurotoxin and generally something we want to keep out of landfills.
So for a long time, safe disposal and recycling programs have focused on CFLs and fluorescent tubes.
Kane County is no different. Until very recently, our light bulbs web page focused pretty much exclusively on this lighting type — and Kane County still invests in safe disposal of mercury-containing bulbs.
If you have any of these that you need to get rid of, you can take them for free to our collection partner, Ace Hardware of Geneva at 617 W. State St. The store manager has requested that program users not tape, tie or otherwise bind fluorescent tubes together. They need to be loose for pick up.
There are a couple of other free disposal options, too: Lowe’s in St. Charles takes CFLs in a drop bin, and the Naperville Household Hazardous Waste Site takes both CFLs and fluorescent tubes.
If you’re doing a whole house clean out and are in an eligible area, Kane County’s Household Hazardous Waste Home Collection Program can even come pick up your CFLs or fluorescent tubes.
In 2022, CFLs are no longer the top dog among efficient lightbulbs. That would be LEDs (light emitting diodes), which are even more efficient than CFLs, do not contain mercury, can generate a warm white light similar to incandescent bulbs, and tend to last a long time.
Adoption of LEDs has been growing very quickly in the last several years, going from about 2% of bulbs sold in 2014 to about 30% in 2018, per the U.S. Department of Energy.
I suspect with the ramp-up in production there have been some quality control issues. Although LED bulbs are often touted as having a lifespan of 15 to 20 years, I have had a couple go bad at my home within less than five years.
That doesn’t mean that the transition to LED bulbs hasn’t been worth it — it just means I’ve had to find a good route to dispose of the broken ones.
As with most things, proper LED disposal is entirely related to how they’re made. Essentially, when the power is on, electrons (electricity) in an LED are passed between two different types of microchip, making light. Slap a screw-in socket and a glass dome on it, and presto — a light bulb.
The microchips and circuit boards in LED bulbs are pretty much the same as those used in electronics, which makes sense considering their history. LED technology was first developed for computer monitors and televisions. Valuable metals in these components can be recovered and recycled.
So, do the Kane County Recycling Centers take loose LED bulbs along with other electronics? Unfortunately, not at the present time.
It’s the glass on the bulbs that’s the issue, posing a safety hazard. However, our program through Ace Hardware in Geneva will accept LED bulbs. All Battery + Bulbs locations in and near Kane County also take LED bulbs for a small fee per item
I’m hoping that as the first big wave of LED bulbs reaches the end of life in the next few years, we will start to see more recycling programs open up for them.
Don’t Miss This Weekend’s Shred Event!
Read More Recycling Tips!
- New Interactive Map Helps You Find Your Way to Kane County’s Awesome Recycling Centers!
- Top 9 Recycling Tips From 2022 Green Guide!
- Best Ways to Get Rid of Packaging From Online Shopping
- What Should I Be Doing With Alkaline Batteries?
- Home Sale Clean-Out … In a Hurry!