When a light bulb breaks, do you know how to properly dispose of it?

Getting rid of old, broken light bulbs is not always as simple as it may seem. Some light bulbs that use potentially harmful chemicals can’t just be thrown in the household waste, while certain other types can easily be recycled.

Below are a few points to bear in mind to help ensure your safety for light bulb disposal as well as handling, installing, use of light bulbs.

Handle all light bulbs with care

This applies whether the light bulb is broken or intact. Always handle lamps with care and store them appropriately to minimise the likelihood of glass breakage. If you do break a lamp, please remember that some lamps contain harmful substances and should be handled accordingly. Incandescent lamps pose little or no threat except that of the broken glass and can be dealt with as regular waste.

Fluorescent tubes and most discharge lamps (eg. SON, metal halide etc.) contain potentially harmful chemicals that should be handled with care and disposed of in accordance with your local waste authority rules and health and safety policies.

To get started, search for your nearest lamp recycling site.

Installing and removing light bulbs

Lamps should be easy to install and remove from their fittings and should never be forced, as this can often result in breakage of the glass. If you keep a record of all of the lamps that you use in the “My Bulbs” section of this website this can help you remember whether they are push-fit, twist-lock or screw-in fittings. This should help prevent twisting a push-fit lamp or vice-versa!

Please remember that lamps are often hot in operation and should always be installed in such a way as to minimise the possibility of personal injury and the risk of fire. Most incandescent lamps actually emit more energy as heat than they do light and should never be placed close to combustible materials or furnishings. Please check the packaging of the lamp before you install it and make sure you adhere to any manufacturer’s guidelines on safety distances etc.

Look out for the pictograms found on the packaging of many lamps. Some require a little interpretation but they should always be observed. For example, the top picture on a dichroic spot lamp shows how the light is reflected forwards but the heat is sent through the back of the lamp. On a virtually identical-looking lamp with an aluminium reflector however, both heat and light are reflected forwards as shown in the lower picture.

Always install the correct lamp for your fitting. Some lamps may look very similar but may have quite different heat characteristics that could cause damage or fire risk.

Many lamps contain gases at either greater than or less than atmospheric pressure and may either explode or implode if the glass is broken. This can cause a significant hazard. Lamps should not be disposed of by breaking them unless appropriate protective equipment is used and environmentally sound disposal methods are followed.

Energy-saving LED light bulbs are great at reducing environmental waste due to their much longer lifespan, read our article Potential LED Savings and see how much you could save.

Make sure you have the right light bulbs

Always observe the maximum wattage and light bulb shape specified for a light fitting or lampshade. Failure to do so may lead to damage to the fitting or even a fire risk. Lampshades are generally rated both for the maximum wattage and recommended shape of a light bulb.

For example, a large shade may be rated for use with a 100W GLS light bulb, whereas a smaller one, or one with a more delicate fabric, may specify a 40W golf ball. Never use a physically larger light bulb than that specified (eg. a GLS light bulb instead of a golf ball) since this will bring the hot surface of the light bulb closer to the fabric and risk burning. Low energy compact fluorescent lamps or LED light bulbs emit far less heat than equivalent incandescent light bulbs and can often be used in applications requiring greater light output.

Most lamps are designed for use indoors or in closed luminaires (ie protected from the elements). Please ensure that you use an appropriate lamp for outdoor applications, particularly in open fittings or luminaires. GLS or golf ball style lamps can only be used in uncovered outdoor applications if the fitting includes appropriate watertight features and the light bulb wattage is no more than 25W. Larger wattage light bulbs are prone to cracking if splashed with rain while hot.

Recycling – The WEEE Directive

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive encourages the recycling of WEEE in order to reduce landfill and to reduce the potential effects on human health and the environment caused by the presence of hazardous substances which are contained in many types of electrical equipment.

The WEEE directive does not apply to conventional filament lamps (light bulbs), which can be treated as normal waste, but it does cover all types of discharge lamps such as fluorescent tubes, compact fluorescents, SONs, Mercury, Metal Halide and other types of discharge lamps. All of these contain various substances such as mercury, lead, cadmium or sodium, which are potentially hazardous and/or damaging to the environment.

Since 13th August 2005, all such items are marked with a crossed-out wheeled bin symbol to show that these items should not be disposed of as general waste. Lightbulbs Direct is obliged under these regulations to offer our domestic customers free take-back of their WEEE on a like-for-like basis when you buy new discharge lamps from us. Please note however that ‘free take-back’ means that we will not charge you for recycling costs however it is under the obligation of the customer to return the goods to Lightbulbs Direct. Please contact us for details of your nearest recycling location if you are purchasing new discharge lamps and wish to send back the old ones for recycling. Businesses wishing to find out more about recycling can find further details on the Waste Recycling website.


The Restriction of use of certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive came in to force on 1st July 2006. This aims to restrict the use of a number of hazardous substances including mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and lead. All lamps that we supply are manufactured to meet the requirements of the RoHS directive.

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