How to Recycle LED Light Bulbs - Earth911

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. Led Garage Lights

How to Recycle LED Light Bulbs - Earth911

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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.

It is unlikely that you can recycle LED bulbs curbside as they contain hazardous substances, such as lead and arsenic.

No, but it’s still best not to throw them in the trash. Some LEDs, like string lights, do not contain hazardous materials but some 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.

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.

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.

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.

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How to Recycle LED Light Bulbs - Earth911

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