My city says they cannot be disposed of in the regular trash because they are filled with mercury.
I’ve asked myself this question on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t always the same.
One approach is to follow the company’s recycling instructions, either printed on the package, or on their site. The disadvantage to this is your time and effort. Even if you’re earning minimum wage, and it takes 15 minutes to dispose, you’ve just added a couple bucks to cost of the bulb.
Another approach, then, might be just to throw the bulb away, and save a couple bucks. The disadvantage is not just the toxin released, but the glass, which can stay sharp for 1,000s of years, causing potentially serious cuts for humans and other animals.
Your city’s concern with mercury is partly based on a very common misconception that mercury never leaves the body. This was shown to be wrong in a study a few years ago, but very much disposal, fish health warnings, and even high school chem labs still use outdated information to make their risk assessment. That doesn’t mean mercury is safe, just that its danger is overestimated.
Another approach is to concentrate on reducing the risk caused by the glass, alone. If the used bulb is placed in a recycling bin where the glass will get recycled regardless of whether it’s broken, then a major hazard is avoided at little cost to you.
I tend to collect used bulbs, then place them in a sealed container, mark the outside GLASS, and place it in the recycle bin. At least in our local recycling center, I believe that’s the approach that’s least likely to cause dangerous glass shards.
Finally, if I’m in a situation where I just need to dispose of a bulb quickly without wanting to get into the hassle of figuring out what’s PC in some community (say I’m replacing a bulb at night in a ski lodge or friend’s house), I do this: Throw it out. Then, to make up for that, I spend five minutes at some later time pulling a few bottles out a dumpster, and placing them in a recycle bin. In terms of time, effort and result, that might be the best solution of all.
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