Photo by Vladimir Gjorgiev @ 123RF.com
LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights are amazing! They last significantly longer than traditional bulbs and are much more energy efficient. Even though LEDs don’t technically burn out – they just get really, really dim, they still need to be replaced every few years. So, the question becomes… what are you supposed to do with the old bulbs?
How to safely dispose of LED lights. Although it’s permissible to dispose of LEDs in your local landfill, the safe recommendation is that LED bulbs should usually be recycled along with your normal household recycling items. Some jurisdictions require special recycling practices for all light bulbs, regardless of type, so check with your local recycling facility or your County solid waste management practices to be sure.
This article will not only discuss the proper way to dispose of your LED bulbs, but also the differences between LEDs and traditional bulbs.
How to Properly Recycle LED Lights
Even though you can dispose of your tired LEDs in the landfill, it doesn’t mean that it’s the preferred method. Recycling is by far the better choice for several reasons:
- LED Lights are not biodegradable.
- LED Lights contain small amounts of toxic chemicals.
- Parts of LED Lights can be repurposed.
Here are some suggestions as to how to recycle your LEDs:
- Take them to local retailer recycling deposit repositories.
There are several retailers (such as Batteries Plus) and/or big box stores that provide a drop-box and safe recycling for:
- Lights/Light Bulbs,
- Printer Cartridges,
- Cell Phones,
- Tablets, and
- Take them to your local recycle depot.
If you know how to do an internet search, it’s fairly easy to find a recycling location near you. Here are a few things you can try searching:
- Your county’s site. To find this, type your county name + your state abbreviation + recycling. What you type in the search bar would look something like this: Delaware+OH+recycling. The top result ends up being: Recycling Information – Delaware County. delaware.oh.us/recycle. You should end up with similar results for your county.
- Another search you could do is to type “Local recycling center near me.” This will provide you with the best options closest to your address (provided you have your location services turned on within your settings.)
- A third choice could be to search com/find. This search allows you to choose from several options within any state.
- First you choose your delivery option of:
- Drop Off
- Pick Up
- Next you choose the type of recycling you have:
- Electronics (This is where the bulbs fit in)
- Then you choose what it is you need to recycle. If they have a location near you, they will list it for you.
- First you choose your delivery option of:
- There are also some online recycling points that will accept your LEDs via mail.
- One such place is com/free-light-recycling. This company will not only accept your old lights, but if you send them your old holiday lights, they will send you a coupon for discounted lights in return.
Are LEDs Dangerous?
One of the best things about LED light bulbs is that they don’t have the mercury in them that CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs) have. This makes disposing of them much more user-and environmentally friendly.
That said, LEDs do still contain small amounts of toxic substances.
Although, well below the legal limits, LEDs are known to contain:
- Arsenic, and
- Lesser amounts of additional substances.
Interestingly, the amount of the toxin depends on the color of the light. There are four different common LED colors:
Note: Red LED lights possess nearly eight times the toxins than the bright-white LED bulbs. Even so, the amount in a single bulb is still lower than what the law considers dangerous.
Benefits of LED Lightbulbs
You’ve probably heard that LED lights last longer than incandescent or CFLs, but here are some facts about quality LED lights:
- LEDs use up to 90% less energy than their counterparts.
- LEDs can last up to 15 times longer.
- LEDs can save up to $55 in electricity expenses over their lifetime.
- LEDs create about 70-90% less heat than their counterparts, so they don’t contribute to extra heat in your house when it’s hot outside.
- Most LED bulbs are dimmable.
All LED Bulbs Are Not Created Equal
There are several companies that develop some form of LED lighting options, but they’re not all as safe, economical, and energy efficient as you may think.
Unless LED bulbs sport the EnergyStar™ brand, they likely are not going to provide you the quality of light distribution or energy and heat savings you’re hoping for.
Those non-approved LEDs likely also possess more of the dangerous chemicals (such as lead and arsenic) than you expect they will.
Whether you’ve grown up using incandescent light bulbs or CFL bulbs, you subconsciously have a certain expectation of how much light a bulb will emit. You also expect it to project light a certain way. Not all LEDs are subject to those types of standards.
Who EnergyStar™ Is
EnergyStar™ is a brand that’s been in existence since 1992. It’s actually a division of the US Environmental Protection Agency developed to help conserve energy and protect the environment.
In order for a manufacturer to be able to affix the EnergyStar label to their LED bulbs, the following criteria must be met:
- Meet the five different requirements for color quality. This not only means when the light is new, but also as it is used over time.
- Meet light distribution and output requirements so the lighting ends up producing the amount of light you expect.
- Provide equivalency guidelines so you know how to relate the LEDs to the comparable wattage you’re used to thinking about.
- Comply with more than 20 different standards regarding how the bulb(s) perform and are labeled.
- Provide long-term testing statistics and documentation to support manufacturer claims about the bulb’s expected “lifetime” and stress test ability.
- Provide a minimum of a 3-year warranty. Some LEDs have a 4, 10, 14, or even 22-year warranty.
- Submit to random testing on an annual basis.
Digging into Other Popular Types of Light Bulbs
LEDs aren’t the only lightbulbs offered in the marketplace. Here are three others that you’re probably familiar with – although only one of these types has an EnergyStar™ certification.
CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lights), are technically fluorescent lightbulbs that have a smaller curled tube rather than a long straight tube.
It has taken several years for manufacturers to figure out how to integrate the ballast connection into a base screw socket. It isn’t that the compact fluorescents don’t have the same kind of connector as those used in ceiling lighting, they’re just hidden inside the workings of the base.
CFLs are known to last up-to 10-times longer than their incandescent predecessors. They also don’t produce heat so if you’re trying to keep your house cool in the summer, they can be a good lighting solution.
That said, they’re not the right solution for all of your light fixtures. Chandeliers that use candelabra bulbs, for instance will lose a lot of their elegance if a CFL is used. Even though they cost about half as much as LEDs, they’re just not pretty bulbs.
That’s not the only complaint about compact fluorescent bulbs, though. Here are the other most common frustrations about CFLs:
- They contain mercury. This means they must be recycled since mercury is a neurotoxicant – a hazardous substance and leeches into the soil. To recycle these bulbs:
- Contact your county recycling center to learn what their process is for these types of bulbs.
- Even though recycling is mandated by the EPA, different states and counties may have a variety of steps and expectations for their particular process.
- Because of the mercury content, if a bulb gets broken, cleaning it up requires the use of:
- Disposable gloves,
- Soap and water,
- Disposal of cleaning supplies used, and
- The broken pieces must also be collected and bagged for recycling.
- Wearing a mask while you’re cleaning everything up is also strongly recommended.
- They don’t immediately turn on – they have to warm up before they’re fully bright. Granted, it’s only somewhere between 10-30 seconds, but that can be a long time in a dark room.
- The light can be hard on your eyes. If you don’t have some sort of shielding around them, CFLs can cause your eyes to become:
- Dry, and/or
- Over time, as the bulb ages, you may find that the color of the light changes.
- CFLs are not dimmable. If you have a light fixture on a rheostat, a CFL would not be a good replacement.
The most common places you’ll see halogen light bulbs is:
- In a workshop,
- Outside floodlights,
- Automobile headlights, or
- Used as part of stage lighting.
These bulbs are closely related to the incandescent bulb. In fact, many of their energy efficiencies can be traced back to the 2007 EISA (Energy Independence and Security Act) bill that required a 65% reduction in energy usage.
The primary development difference between incandescent and halogen bulbs is that rather than burning the tungsten that is on the filament and allowing it to deposit on the interior of the bulb, halogen gas creates a chemical reaction with the tungsten. As a result of this chemical reaction, a portion of the tungsten is evaporated, and some is returned to the filament giving the bulb a longer life.
Significantly more heat is required in order to obtain that kind of process. As a result, Halogen bulbs are manufactured using quartz rather than typical filaments.
Speaking of that heat, these bulbs get extremely hot – to the point of being dangerous to touch when they’re on or recently turned off. When inappropriately handled, halogen bulbs have been known to burn badly enough to cause blisters.
That heat also radiates outward, so it contributes to a dwelling’s overall temperature. That may be wonderful during cold winter months, but it will raise air conditioning costs in the summertime.
In 2007, former president George W. Bush enacted EISA which was expected to be fully implemented as of January 1, 2020. This bill required every-day light bulbs to reduce their energy usage by 65 percent while still delivering the same amount of light.
Because of their lack of energy efficiency, incandescent light bulbs were targeted as part of this legislation. They started being phased out of production in 2007 with many types no longer being manufactured as of 2014.
At purchase time, these have traditionally been the least expensive of all of the light bulb types, but they also burn out the fastest requiring frequent replacements. So, in the long run, they actually end up costing more than their more energy efficient upgrades.
Traditional incandescent bulbs work by heating the tungsten filament. The burned tungsten then deposits on the inside of the lightbulb. This is the black film coating the inside of the bulb that can often be seen when you preplace a lightbulb.
Some of the disadvantages of incandescent light bulbs are:
- They’re fragile. If you’ve ever had an incandescent light bulb slip from your fingers and hit the table, you know the immediate concern and visual check to see whether or not the filament has broken. If they’re hot, even a sonic boom or mild earthquake can result in a broken filament.
- Because their lifespan is shorter, you not only end up spending more money replacing them, but also dumping more into the landfills. Although the glass will break down over time, the base won’t.
- If you’re running a business, you will undoubtedly have customers with a negative perception because of the use of incandescent bulbs instead of more energy efficient options. You’ll also have a higher electric bill.
Some states (California) and countries have either completely banned incandescent bulbs or have eliminated the option for the sale of incandescent lighting products. The countries that have banned incandescent bulbs include:
- European Union
- South Korea
- United States (certain wattages)
Comparing Light Bulb Types
LED lights are often the preferred lighting solution because they’re so energy efficient and last longer than their counterpart bulbs. Below is a chart that looks at how some other kinds of light bulbs compare to LEDs.
CFL (Compact) Fluorescent Lights
Halogen (These are a Type of Incandescent)
|Incandescent (Many of these were phased out of production as of 2014 and are generally no longer available)||
LED (Light Emitting Diodes)
Has EnergyStar™ Certified Products Available
Yes. These are more efficient than incandescent or halogen bulbs.
No. These are about 20% more efficient than incandescent bulbs.
|Yes. These are the most energy efficient bulbs – about 80 or 90% better than incandescent bulbs.|
Landfill or Recycle at Light Bulb Recycle Center
Landfill or Recycle
Landfill or Recycle
|Turns on Immediately||No. Slowly lights as it warms up.||
|Amount of Electricity Used*||
Is it Sensitive to Environmental Temperatures?
|Potentially. May not work properly at <-10 degrees Fahrenheit or >120 degrees Fahrenheit||Not generally, but they run extremely hot and can result in burns if someone touches them.||
|Chemical Components||Argon, Barium, Calcium Oxides, Mercury Powder, Strontium, Tungsten, Vapor||Filaments, Halogen gas, Tungsten||Argon, Filaments, Tungsten||Arsenic, Copper, Lead, Nickel, Phospher|
|Typical Number of Hours of Use||Between 6,000 to 15,000; some may last for up-to 35,000 hours||
Typically, about 3,000 hours
Usually about 2,000 hours
Generally, 50,000 hours or longer
|Longevity Impacted by Turning On and Off?||Yes. It has been known to reduce the bulb’s lifespan.||
Yes. It puts stress on the filament.
Yes. It puts stress on the filament.
|Hot to the Touch?||Can be hot to the touch||Yes! Gets hot enough to cause burns.||Can be hot to the touch||Can be warm to the touch, but usually remain cool|
|Typical Uses for this Type of Bulb||Recessed cannister lighting, hidden light fixtures (ie. lamps with shades or fixtures behind shields||Car headlights, under/over cabinet/counter lighting, work lights, outdoor patio lights, spotlights, floodlights||Indoor and outdoor lighting, portable lighting, table lamps, flashlights, decorative lighting, car headlights||Automobile lights, electronics like computers and televisions, home lighting, flashlights, decorative lighting, accent lighting|
*Note: This comparison assumes comparability to a 60-watt Incandescent bulb.
Developments in Light Bulb Technology
Not wanting to passively wait for potential solutions, a significant partnership to conduct forward-thinking research was formed between:
- The Army Research Office
- The MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies
- S3TEC Energy Frontier Research Center (funded by the U.S. Department of Energy)
- Purdue University
With that partnership in hand and EISA in mind, researchers at MIT and Purdue University began working on an incandescent solution that could be as much as 80-percent more efficient. This proof-of-concept light actually “recycles” the bulb’s heat using nanotechnology.
Their studies have shown that as much as 95-percent of the energy that goes into traditional incandescent bulbs ends up being wasted because of the heat disbursement. The beauty of this developing process is that instead of losing a large percent of the light bulb’s energy via heat disbursement, that heat is captured and reused to create more light.
In addition to the energy efficiency, another exciting facet of this potential development is the ability for consumers to retain the “warm” color, or glow, that traditional incandescent bulbs produce and is often preferred.
After reading the paper and the initial findings, Alejandro Rodriguez, Princeton assistant professor of electric engineering, who is not involved in the development of this new technology, commented,
- “I believe that this work will reinvigorate and set the stage for further studies of incandescence emitters, paving the way for the future design of commercially scalable structures.”
The prospect of scalability is something the researchers are excited about. They are looking toward a future of capturing the energy that is wasted through thermal emissions of large-sized processes and turning it into electricity. The lightbulb development is just the beginning of their imaginations.
Choosing the Best LED
The possibility of a significantly improved incandescent bulb is nice to think about, but what about your current lighting needs?
Since LEDs are the most energy efficient in today’s market and easiest current bulb to dispose of, there are a few things you’ll want to know when choosing the bulb that’s best for you.
To help you choose the right bulb for you, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has mandated that LED bulb cartons have a “Lighting Facts” label similar to the “Nutrition Facts” found on food containers. On the LED label you will find:
- Brightness (How many lumens it provides)
- Estimated Yearly Energy Cost (Based on using 3-hours per day)
- Life (How long your bulb will last based on using 3-hours per day)
- Light Appearance (The color the light bulb will emit)
- Energy Used
Here’s how each of those categories are defined:
Watts versus Lumens
You may have grown up thinking in terms of lighting wattage, but LEDs are based on lumens. The U.S. Department of Energy has provided a conversion chart:
|How to Choose the Brightness Level You Want|
|LED (Light Emitting Diode)||Traditional Incandescent Bulbs Equivalent|
|1,600 Lumens||100 Watts|
|1,100 Lumens||75 Watts|
|800 Lumens||60 Watts|
|450 Lumens||40 Watts|
Warm or Cool Color
The color or appearance of the light is referred to in terms of color temperature which is measured as Kelvin (K).
For the warmer (yellowish) glow you’re used to getting from incandescent bulbs, you will want to choose a bulb of between 2,700K and 3,000K. For a more daytime lighting effect, a bluer color will be of more interest to you. For that appearance, look for a bulb that is listed at about 5,000K.
The best example of these color differences can be found in various cosmetic mirrors that offer different lighting settings. The daytime setting is literally blue, and the evening setting is on the soft yellow tone.
How White LED Lights are Created
Speaking of warm and cool color tones, you may be wondering why white wasn’t listed as part of the colors listed above except within the note about red lights.
White is not a natural light color. It is created.
There are two different methods used to deliver the bright white LED output:
- All of the colors are used in combination with one another to create the right mix that will provide the appearance of white light.
- The diodes are covered with a white phosphor material to convert the color to the white you expect to see. The phosphor tends to be a “yellowish” compound and is often used in signal lights (think flashing warning lights and traffic lights) and indicator lights like those used on electronic panels.
That may seem to be counterintuitive since in the color spectrum white is the absence of all color.
In the light spectrum, however, white light is the presence of all colors.
When thinking about color in means of light, you’re really talking about various color wavelengths and their deviations. Red has the least amount of diffusion, that’s why it’s the easiest color to see when you look at a rainbow. Conversely, violet suffers the most amount of deviation and is, therefore, the hardest to see.
When all of the light waves collide and combine, the result is the white light.
When you see a rainbow, the various light waves have been placed through a prism of water which refracts and disperses the different colors.
If you want to put the bulb in a light with a dimmer switch, make sure you choose a bulb that says it’s dimmable. Not all LEDs are.
LED lights are not designed for use in ovens. If you are looking for a bulb to use in your appliances, look specifically for “appliance” bulbs.
Automatic garage door openers may require a specific type of LED to ensure that the bulb won’t interfere with the remote functions. Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you choose a bulb that specifically states that it is vibration-resistant or rated for “rough service.”
Similarly, if you want to put an LED inside a fully enclosed fixture, make sure you choose a bulb that’s rated for that use. Most LEDs will fail prematurely if they don’t have a specific thermal-efficient design that can handle higher temperatures.
Do you remember that elegant chandelier we talked about earlier? The good news is that if you want to transition to LEDs, you have candelabra options both in rounded and flame shapes. Not only that, but you have choices between the small screw-in base and the standard-sized screw-in base. There are also color temperature options available to you.
Light it Up
As long as we continue to work toward a more energy efficient and environmentally friendly culture, there will be ongoing developments and improvements in lighting options.
For now, you know that LED lights are the most environmentally friendly choice you can make. Not only during their use, but also in their disposal.