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01/17/2007: "what to do with a bunch of incandescent lightbulbs?"

Being the energy-savvy consumer that I am, I've been replacing our incandescent bulbs with compact fluourescent bulbs over the past few years. Jannette was complaining about the bright white colour of the ones I had in the basement, so I bought an 8-pack of warmer ones, and went on a replacement spree throughout the whole house. We're more CFL than we are incandescent now, methinks.

Only problem is, now I have a stack on perfectly good (if used) incandescent lightbulbs sitting on my workbench. What am I supposed to do with them? Being green-minded and creative I'd like to say I know the perfect answer... but I don't. Chuck them in the landfill? I think not. Let someone else take and use them? Well, doesn't that defeat the purpose of REPLACING them with CFLs?

What to do?

The one hope I'm holding out for is that they are recycleable. I'm not holding MUCH hope out for that option, but I'm hoping nonetheless. After all, they're just glass, steel, tungsten, and a little bit of solder, right? They should be perfectly recycleable. I'm guessing, however, that not many municipalities (if any) actively recycle lightbulbs.

Someone (maybe myself) needs to figure this out, and fast. A few year ago one CFL bulb cost nearly $10. Just last week I got my 8-pack for $20. The prices are coming down, and fast. Soon we will be flooded with lightbulbs.

Actually, scratch that. We probably already ARE flooded with lightbulbs... these incandescent bulbs don't last all that long, so figure every two years (to be conservative) every single incandescent lightbulb in everyone's home has to be replaced. That is (pardon my language) a shitload of lightbulbs!! And an awful lot of glass and steel clogging our landfill. (I've never heard of anyone successfully composting glass or burning it for energy, so I'll make the brazen assumption that it just sits there for eons.)

So what can one do with a lighbulb to re-use it? Re-task it as a heating element? Probably not enough volume there. Figure out how to recycle it? Probably the most likely, especially if the tungsten filament could be recovered in a relatively pure form. Otherwise.... I don't know! Argh, my creativity fails me!

Until I hear a convincing plan for what to do with them, I'm going to keep asking. Perhaps I should write GE or Sylvania and see what they have to say for themselves. If I ever find a good use for your used-but-still-functional incandescent lightbulbs, I'll let you know. If you hear of or think of something, please let me know!

Replies: 7 Comments

on Wednesday, January 17th, Violet said

Christmas tree ornaments:

Hollow it out and.. boil stuff in it?

Hollow it out and make a stand for it!

I'll.. keep thinking... :)

on Wednesday, January 17th, roberthahn said

hollow it out, build a ship inside, and attach the metal base back on. who said all ships had to be built in a bottle?


make a small aquarium for seamonkeys...

on Thursday, January 18th, Kelly said

I've felt that same way when chucking out old light bulbs. It feels so wrong, yet Freecycling them doesn't feel right either! Yes, I think we are going to have to paint them or cover them in coloured tissue paper and supply the whole (Christian) world with tree ornaments. Oh, what about a base for a papier mache animal? Ok, you save them and when Vi and I get the craft room up, we'll invite everyone over to make things out of light bulbs.


on Thursday, January 18th, mr.ska said

Wow, Violet... thanks! I had considered drilling a hole in them and filling them with gunpowder, but then I rarely have need for a homemade bomb.

Rob: so the frosted ones would be used for building British ships?

Hmm... I wonder if there would be a way to safely and easily (on an industrial scale) replace the filaments with LEDs - retrofit them into LED bulbs! (Then Kelly could make papier mache fireflies.)

on Thursday, January 18th, roberthahn said


i'm sure the frosting can be cleared off, but i'm not sure how. but: heh, yeah, save the frosted ones for the British ships. :)

I'm sure you could swap out the filaments safely, but i doubt that you could do it cost effectively, which would be the real kicker. And then: what to do with the bulb when the LED burns out? More: won't the LED be too small to properly diffuse the light out of the bulb?

on Thursday, January 18th, mr.ska said

Oooh! What about hollowing them out (as per the link Violet provided) and then painting the inside with glow-in-the-dark paint? Screw it into an unconnected socket (hung on the wall/ceiling, but with no power to it) for a funky effect! It would marry up well with a blacklight in the room.

on Wednesday, January 31st, casey said

fun stuff you write.

tracked you to here from building a bale house.

get back to me! wanna build one too.


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