How to Recycle LED Light Bulbs

Light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs are a very high-efficiency lighting option. These bulbs produce light up to 90% more efficiently than old-school incandescent light.

LEDs are even more efficient than compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, which are up to 70% more energy efficient compared to incandescent bulbs. Because LEDs last so long, you will probably use your LED light bulb for a long time before you need to worry about recycling.

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LED Light Bulb Recycling Preparation

  1. Turn off the lamp or light before removing the LED bulb from the fixture.
  2. Some LED light bulb recycling drop-off locations may ask you to wrap each bulb separately in a plastic bag to reduce breakage and to protect workers if bulbs do break. However, this is not always the case. Your best bet is to ask your recycler what their requirements are before you drop off your LED bulbs for recycling.
  3. If you are recycling string lights, remove them from any displays (for instance, a pine tree wire structure or wreath).

Why Recycle LED Light Bulbs

The glass and metal used in LED bulbs is recyclable. Like any glass or metal product, it is the best practice to reuse and recycle these finite, non-renewable resources as much as we can to conserve Earth’s resources and to reduce needless waste.

According to GreenTech Solutions, 95% of an LED bulb can be recycled. However, not every part is recycled in every facility. The cost of separating the materials may be prohibitive for some facilities, and not all facilities are equipped to process the bulbs.

Where to Recycle LED Light Bulbs

  • Big-box stores like Lowes, Home Depot, and IKEA may offer in-store recycling bins where you can drop off your old LED light bulbs. Contact your local store for details.
  • Many municipal safety departments offer both LED and CFL recycling on specific days or at set locations. Check with your city.
  • Most Batteries Plus stores accept old LED bulbs for a fee, as do some hardware stores. Contact your local store for details.
  • If you cannot find a local recycling option, NLR, LampMaster, Republic Services, and Veolia offer mail-in programs for a fee.
  • LED holiday string lights can also be recycled through big box stores or mailed to HolidayLEDs, Environmental LED, or Christmas Light Source.

Anatomy of an LED light bulb
Image courtesy of NLR

Frequent LED Light Bulb Recycling Questions

Can I recycle LED bulbs in my curbside recycling bin?

It is unlikely that you can recycle LED bulbs curbside, but your community may have a drop-off location. Check with your municipality or local solid waste district.

How are LED bulbs recycled?

LED bulbs are first processed through a shredder to break apart the components. These pieces are then run through separators depending on the recycler. Some use an eddy current sorter while others use a photopic separator to separate glass, plastic, and metal. In some instances, a magnet is used to remove metal.

The metal components of LED bulbs are the most valuable and therefore the most likely to be recycled into something else. Specifically, copper and aluminum are the most salvageable. LED string lights contain copper in the wires between bulbs and so have even more of this metal than LED bulbs used in light fixtures.

Circuit boards are sent to a smelter to recover the metals. A smelter will either use heat or chemical extraction to remove metals such as gold, aluminum, copper, and nickel.

A powder of heavy rare earth metals is often used to coat the insides of LED bulbs that change colors. At this time, the amount of these metals is too small to be recovered but it is expected that this will change in the future. LED recycling is evolving and more materials may be recoverable in the future.

Are LED light bulbs household hazardous waste (HHW) like CFL bulbs?

No. LEDs are not HHW. Do not confuse them with CFL bulbs, which contain mercury and argon, and must be disposed of as HHW.

Is it against the law to throw away LED light bulbs?

In the United States, it is not against the law to dispose of LEDs in the landfill. They are not considered hazardous waste and can technically be disposed of with your trash.

In Europe, LED recycling is mandated. We may expect to see required LED recycling in the U.S. in the coming years.

Are LED bulbs considered e-waste or universal waste?

LED bulbs usually contain electronic circuitry (circuit boards) similar to those found in computers and other electronics. These parts can often be salvaged by recyclers that process e-waste (sometimes call universal waste).

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