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.

Light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs are a long-lasting, high-efficiency lighting option, but they will eventually need to be recycled. LEDs reduce electricity use by 90% compared to old-school incandescent bulbs, which will no longer be sold in the U.S. after 2023.

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Why Recycle LED Light Bulbs

The glass, metal, and plastic used in LED bulbs are recyclable. Reusing these finite, non-renewable resources as much as we can helps conserve the Earth’s resources and reduces the volume of waste sent to landfills. According to GreenTech Solutions, 95% of an LED bulb can be recycled. However, not every component can be recycled by every facility because of the cost of separating the materials.

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. Ask your recycler what their requirements are before you drop off or send LED bulbs for recycling.
  3. If you are recycling string lights, remove them from the display – for instance, a pine tree wire structure or wreath – before sending or dropping off the cord and lights for recycling.

Where to Recycle LED Light Bulbs

  • Big-box home goods stores such as Lowe’s, Home Depot, and IKEA may offer in-store recycling bins where you can drop off LED light bulbs. Contact your local store for details.
  • Many municipal safety departments offer both LED and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) 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 drop-off option, Republic Services and Veolia offer mail-in LED recycling services 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.

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

No, but it’s still best not to throw them in the trash. Some LEDs, including string lights, do not contain hazardous materials but older bulbs may contain heavy metals like arsenic and lead and should be disposed of properly as a result. Your community may have a hazardous waste drop-off location where you can safely dispose of those. Find local options by adding your ZIP code in the Earth911 Recycling Locator.

How are LED bulbs recycled?

LED bulbs are first processed in a shredder to break apart the components. The pieces are run through separators. 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.

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

In the United States, it is not currently against the law to dispose of LEDs in the landfill. They are not considered hazardous waste because the amounts of toxins they contain are minute. They can be disposed of with your trash, but it’s better for the environment to recycle them.

In Europe, LED recycling is mandated. We may 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 similar to those found in computers and other electronics. These parts can often be salvaged by recyclers that process e-waste, sometimes referred to as universal waste.

Additional Reading

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 29, 2020, and was updated in March 2024.