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Ask G: What's the best way to dispose of light bulbs?

Incandescent bulbs will be phased out starting November 2008, which means a whole lot of light bulbs will need to be tossed

I've changed all my light bulbs to the new compact fluorescents. Now, what do I do with the old ones? Is there a recycling or reuse option?

broken light bulb

Credit: iStockphoto

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Your standard incandescent light bulbs are going to be phased out starting in November, so if you haven't done already, you'll need to begin changing over you lights.

Incandescents

Don't put 'ordinary' incandescent light bulbs in your recycling bin. They are made from heat-proof glass, which typically remains solid when other glass is melted during the recycling process.

This can lead to all sorts of problems in recycling facilities. Waste authorities advise that they can be disposed of with other rubbish to landfill.

Given that they're being phased out and they're not a toxic waste, it's not worth establishing a separate recycling program for incandescent bulbs.

On the other hand, Victoria has piloted a recycling program for fluorescent lamps. The findings will potentially feed into the development of a national collection program, but these things take time.

CFLs

Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs and fluorescent tubes contain small amounts of mercury, which is toxic to wildlife and people. So behind the scenes at Australia's waste authorities, there's been a mad rush to develop sound collection, recycling and/or disposal programs for CFLs.

The NSW and Victorian governments are collecting CFLs through their existing hazardous waste collection programs, Household Chemical CleanOut and Detox Your Home respectively. Other states and territories are still working on their recycling options.

Fluorescents

If you break a fluorescent light:

  1. Put on a dust mask and carefully sweep up all fragments and particles and put them in a plastic bag.
  2. Wipe the area with a damp paper towel and also put the towel in the plastic bag and seal it.
  3. If you live in NSW or Victoria, dispose of this through the hazardous waste program. For all other states put it out with the general rubbish.
  4. Finally, ventilate the room.

Whatever you do, don't use a vacuum to clean up, as this can disperse the mercury!

There are a few recyclers that are happy to collect bulk quantities. In addition, Ikea offers customers a 'take-back' program for all the types of light bulb they sell. Ikea stores have specially marked recycling bins for this purpose. I expect other lighting retailers will offer similar programs in the future.