What do I do with an old low-energy light bulb?

As technology gets better it’s always tempting to upgrade to the latest thing, and that’s particularly an issue when it comes to smart bulbs. Suddenly, yesterday’s LED bulbs are old hat, while fluorescent bulbs are positively ancient.

The problem is that low-energy bulbs might go on for years, so replacing them with newer models is a waste of resources. Even if they’re broken, all low-energy bulbs include electrical waste that shouldn’t go in the bin. They may also contain toxic materials. It’s always best to reuse or donate working bulbs, and recycle those that break. Here’s how.

What do I do with broken bulbs?

With the notable exception of the 120-year-old Centennial Light, all bulbs eventually stop working. When they do, you should check the fitting and power rating, and buy an appropriate replacement. Check out our smart bulb recommendations.

For safety it may be best to keep the old bulb installed until you can fit the new one, particularly in any desk or side lamps within reach of children. Put old glass bulbs in a cardboard box, and take them to the nearest recycling centre when possible. Never put low-energy bulbs in the bin – they should always be recycled.

By Flickr user LaniElderts, CC BY-ND 2.0

If you’ve smashed a bulb, carefully sweep up any glass shards and put them in a cardboard box. Take particular care with smashed low-energy bulbs, which may contain toxic materials.

How do I dispose of low-energy light bulbs?

We don’t recommend replacing working low-energy light bulbs with smart bulbs. Particularly if you already have modern LED lighting, smart bulbs are unlikely to save you any money. You’ll also need to find a new home for the old bulb.

If you must upgrade, use the old bulbs to replace any conventional bulbs you might still have lurking around. Once you’ve done that, you could keep one or two old bulbs as spares. After that, the next best thing is to donate working bulbs to good causes. You might try:

  • Friends and neighbours
  • Local charities
  • Freecycle
  • Local Facebook groups

Note that not many charities will take electrical goods – you may need to call round to find one that will. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sell old bulbs, even if they are quite new, but if you’ve got several you could try advertising them on an auction site like eBay.

If all else fails, you can take working bulbs to your local recycling centre, but this is best seen as a last resort – it’s very wasteful. Remember that you should never throw a low-energy light bulb in the household rubbish.