Shining Some Light on Recycling Light Bulbs!

Incandescent, CFL, and LED light bulbs
(From left) Incandescent, CFL and LED light bulbs.

How do CFL & LED Bulbs Work Differently from Incandescent Bulbs?

Generally, all light bulbs' function based on the electrical current that passes through the material, generating light. Within incandescent bulbs, the electric current flows through a wire filament that then converts the energy to heat, causing the bulb to glow. 

In a compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb, the electrical current travels through a tube containing argon and mercury vapor. Energy traveling through these elements generates an invisible ultraviolet light that excites the fluorescent coating on the inside of the tube - resulting in visible light.

Differently, light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs have a voltage driver built-in to the base of the bulb that assembles small light-emitting diodes (light particles). The voltage drive is usually a semiconductor (e.g., gallium arsenide or various forms of silicone) which make LED light bulbs more energy-efficient since they release less thermal radiation while in use.

Let's Discuss Energy Usage!

From their lifespan to electricity usage, both CFL and LED light bulbs comparatively are more efficient and emit less greenhouse gas emissions than the traditional incandescent light bulbs. Check out the below table for a complete comparison!

Lifespan in hours1,0009,00010,000
Watts Used6013 to 1510
Cost per bulb$1.25$2.40$2.50
Daily cost*$0.03$0.007$0.005
Annual cost*$10.95$2.56$1.83

* Assuming 5 hours a day per kWh at $0.10.

Why Should I Recycle My Used Bulbs?

CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury, which is hazardous to humans and the environment. Disposing of CFL's correctly is crucial! The emission of mercury into our environment is very dangerous and can cause human health problems. For more information about the impacts of mercury, please visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's mercury web page.

LED light bulbs don't contain any hazardous chemicals, but they do contain trace amounts of heavy metals (e.g., lead and arsenic). These metals are known to cause human health problems and can be dangerous when breaking down at a landfill.

Check out our blog post on landfills (coming soon) to learn more about what happens to items over time when they are sent to a landfill.

Why are Light Bulbs Not Accepted with Curbside Recycling?

Have you ever broken a light bulb and noticed how it shatters into a million different pieces? When light bulbs are placed in curbside recycling collection bins, light bulbs have a high probability of breaking and releasing contained mercury or other components into the collection vehicles. Plus, shattered light bulbs have the potential to harm any workers than come in contact with items collected with curbside recycling. 

Exposure to mercury, lead, or arsenic can result in negative health risks. Like all hazardous waste materials, Charleston County respectively ask that each resident act responsibly and bring such hazardous waste to designated convenience centers. 

Where To Recycle Your Used Light Bulbs

Charleston County residents can bring their old incandescent, CFL and LED bulbs to the following staffed convenience centers.

  • Adams Run Convenience Center (8776 Old Jacksonboro Road, 29426)
  • Awendaw Convenience Center (630 Maxville Road, 29429)
  • Bees Ferry Road Convenience Center (1344 Bees Ferry Road, 29414)
  • Edisto Convenience Center (2844 Highway 174, 29438)
  • Hollywood Convenience Center (5305 Highway 165, 29449)
  • McClellanville Convenience Center (1775 River Road, 29458)
  • Signal Point Road Convenience Center (1716 Signal Point Road, 29412)
  • Wadmalaw Convenience Center (1558 Liberia Road, 29487)

All Staffed Convenience Centers (except Signal Point Road Convenience Center) are open Monday through Saturday from 7:30am to 6:00pm. Signal Point Road Convenience Center is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00am to 6:00pm.

**Please note that these locations only accept light bulbs from residents & you may be required to show proof of residency when dropping off.