Shining a Light on LEDs: Proper Bulb Recycling

This is the final installment of a 3-part series of blogs written by AmeriCorps Member Phoebe Little, who, along with Grace Sherman, is working with GrowSmart Maine to bring our Energy Efficiency Community Campaign to Biddeford and Windham. We know that energy efficiency and weatherization are pragmatic steps in mitigating climate change that also save Mainers money. While GrowSmart continues to advocate and plan events to highlight connections between smart growth and Maine’s Climate Action Plan and 10-Year Economic Plan, we are also engaging in this community level boots on the ground work for immediate impact. While EV charging stations and renewable energy production are ramping up, simple steps like switching to LED lighting (and knowing how to recycle them) and adding weatherization window inserts through WindowDressers, Mainers are making a difference now. Check out our October and November Window Builds in Biddeford and Windham on our website calendar at https://growsmartmaine.org/

Switching to energy efficient light bulbs is an easy step each of us can take to save money and reduce our energy use. Along with weatherization, this is a common entry point for energy efficiency work for many Mainers.

Phoebe is a 2020 graduate of Smith College where she studied government and environmental science and completed a thesis on armoring Maine Island communities against sea level rise. In 2021, she graduated with her Masters degree in audio journalism from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. She’s thrilled to be back in her home state working with communities to increase energy efficiency.

The prior post in our LED light bulb series made the case that LED and fluorescent light bulbs are more efficient and therefore less expensive overall. There are many benefits in making the switch away from traditional incandescent bulbs but there is one difficulty… it can be confusing to dispose of the bulbs!  At the end of this article is a directory of private and public facilities that accept fluorescent bulbs as recycling.

The most important thing to know about the three types of light bulbs is that fluorescent bulbs contain small amounts of Mercury. Therefore, if broken, they can be harmful to humans and the environment. Because of this, fluorescent bulbs should never go directly into the trash. In seven states (including Maine) it’s required by law to recycle these types of bulbs. Even with regulations in place to encourage recycling, only about a third of fluorescent bulbs are recycled properly meaning that there’s likely a lack of public awareness surrounding proper disposal knowledge.

One of the many benefits of LED bulbs is that they don’t contain Mercury and therefore are not required by law to be recycled properly. Instead, LEDs can be disposed of with the rest of your trash items or recycled in a facility. Because LED light bulbs are a relatively new advancement in home lighting technology, these LED recycling programs are not yet widespread. Some of the most common options for recycling LED bulbs include Home Depot’s drop off program or several “mail in” programs found here. This is a link to a comprehensive table of locations where fluorescent lights and LED bulbs can be recycled properly in the state.

 

 

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