Woman Changing a Light Bulb pic from Shutterstock
HOW TO SWAP OUT YOUR BULBS
How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb? Usually just one, but if you’re using a ladder, you might want to have a friend steady it for you. Once you have your more energy-efficient replacements for your incandescents, simply unscrew your old bulbs, and screw in your new LEDs or CFLs. You might want to save the packaging from your new bulbs to wrap around your old bulbs when you discard them.
Photo via ReverseVending
HOW TO RECYCLE YOUR OLD BULBS
Unfortunately, at the moment, most cities do not recycle incandescent light bulbs so the best way to dispose of your old bulb is to package them up in the box your new bulb came in (this will help keep it from shattering) and simply discard it in your regular garbage. No matter how tempting it is, don’t throw your light bulbs in the recycle bin.
HOW TO RECYCLE CFL BULBS
As you learned in our charts on the previous pages of this article, CFLs are different from incandescents and LEDs in that they contain mercury, a material that can be harmful to humans if the liquid is touched, or vapors are inhaled. While CFLs only contain a minuscule amount of mercury, it’s important to dispose of them properly so as not to allow the vapor to escape into your house, or the substance to enter our waste streams and water supply. The best way to recycle your CFL bulbs is to take them to a local in-store recycling program (see a list of participating retailers here) or send them in via an easy mail-back service like the ones listed here.
WHAT TO DO IF A CFL BREAKS IN YOUR HOME
Since we’ve mention that CFL bulbs contain mercury, you might be worried about what to do if one of them breaks in your home. The good news is that CFLs contain only a tiny amount of mercury and they are not likely to present a significant risk to you or your family, but to be on the safe side, it’s important to still take the proper steps to clean them up and dispose of them quickly and carefully.
When a bulb breaks, it’s probably your immediate instinct to start picking up the pieces of glass, but in the case of a CFL, the first thing you should do is get everyone (including pets) out of the room and ventilate it as well as you can. Open all of the windows and shut off your central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.
After 15 minutes or so of ventilation, you can start the cleanup. If you have gloves and a mask, it’s a good idea to put them on. DO NOT use a vacuum cleaner, broom or anything else that might flick the shards around the room. Instead, use a piece of hard paper or cardboard to slowly scoop up the glass fragments and powder and place them into glass jar with a metal lid. Then, use sticky tape to pick the remaining small glass fragments and powder. Lastly, use a damp paper towel to wipe the area clean and dispose of it in the glass jar. If you still see tiny particles around, you can use your vacuum cleaner only on the area where the bulb broke and then immediately clean out the contents and place them in the glass jar or a sealed plastic bag. Then wipe and clean the inside of the vacuum bag or canister. When you feel you’ve removed all of the pieces of bulb, immediately place the glass jar or bags containing the waste in an outdoor trash container, and don’t forget to wash your hands thoroughly! For a more detailed list of these instructions, visit epa.gov.
Since there isn’t much you can do in terms of recycling incandescent bulbs, why not get crafty and creative and upcycle them into cute vases (like this one shown above) or terrariums (like this one below). Bam – instant unique birthday or holiday present that says you are awesome, and you really care!
Last but not least, you can always hold on to your old incandescent bulb if it isn’t completely dead, since incandescents will be like rare antiques in a few years (okay, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement). You might even be able to sell it on eBay some day!