Let there be lightbulb recycling

Energy-efficient lightbulbs pollute ecosystems when tossed into the trash.

Bulb recycling kits keep the glass from breaking. Lightbulb<br/>
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So you've popped new, corkscrew-shaped, compact fluorescent lightbulbs into every lamp at home. Fingers crossed, your next electrical bill will shrink now that those wasteful incandescent lights are gone.

Millions more people may soon follow in your footsteps. A California lawmaker wants the state to ban the sale of energy-wasting incandescents altogether, as Australia is doing. Meanwhile, campaigns such as Yahoo's 18 Seconds promote switching to CFL bulbs, which are getting more shelf space in Wal-Mart stores.

The remains of a lightbulb
The remains of a lightbulb Sylvania

However, the funny-looking fluorescents pose a pollution problem. Their energy savings may be ecofriendly, but each bulb contains enough methylmercury to poison a small lake. As with electronics waste, there's no national antidumping law. It's illegal in seven U.S. states to put household fluorescents in with the rest of the trash, but finding where to recycle bulbs can be a pain.

That's because unlike computers, which contain copper and gold--or printer cartridges, which can be refurbished--lightbulbs lack valuable ingredients. It costs several dollars to grind up each bulb to make art glass and to extract the mercury for use in new bulbs (all of Sylvania's bulbs use recycled mercury, for instance).

Here are some ways to dispense safely of spent fluorescent bulbs. The fees can be high, but they'll keep you from breaking the law in California, Maine, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, or Indiana (and soon Massachusetts).

  • Many IKEA stores will take dead lightbulbs off your hands, yet another excuse to while away a day at the megastore.
  • Sylvania launched bulb recycling in November. You'll pay $15 to get its RecyclePak via UPS, enough to ship a dozen bulbs back via prepaid FedEx. You can send in incandescents, too, although they don't contain poisons like mercury.
  • Bulbs.com offers similar kits. A box holding up to 200 compact fluorescents costs $94.
  • LightbulbRecycling.com's bucket holding 30 CFL bulbs costs $120. Ouch.
  • LampRecycle lists options where companies can dump their bulbs in each state.
 

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