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Top tips for disposing of energy saving lightbulbs and other WEE

Here in the UK we throw away a million tonnes of household electrical and electronic waste every year – and that’s just from our homes. If that figure wasn’t shocking enough, at least as much comes from non-household sources such as offices, factories, schools and hospitals.

Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the UK and the EU. Some EEE (Electrical and electronic equipment), such as toasters, microwaves, TVs and radios contain hazardous substances and parts such as; 

· Mercury – in switches in appliances and in energy-saving lightbulbs
· Lead in solder and in batteries
· Cadmium in batteries

Heavy metals are particularly harmful to the environment because they accumulate through the food chain and can cause serious health effects. Other toxic and potentially damaging materials include plasticizers which can seep into the soil and cause toxicity in wildlife.

So, before you throw out your bulbs and appliances, consider the damage you could be doing and read our top tips below:

Energy-saving lightbulbs

Most of us have standard incandescent light bulbs in our homes. Not only do they burn out quicker, they can’t be recycled. That’s because they are made of a different type of glass and also contain metal parts – so unfortunately the only way they can be disposed of is in your general waste.

Although energy-saving lightbulbs (CFL type) will help save you money, if you just throw them out in your general waste they will damage to the environment. That’s because they contain a small amount of mercury, limited at 5mg per lamp, which is needed to generate light efficiently.

In most parts of the UK, energy-saving lightbulbs can be recycled at your local waste and recycling centre. If the bulb is broken however, you will need to contact your local council as it is immediately classified as hazardous waste. They have a responsibility to make arrangements for the disposal of household hazardous waste at a civic amenity site or household waste recycling centre.

For businesses, it’s important that fluorescent lights are recycled properly when they’re done – the contents of just one florescent tube can pollute 30,000 litres of water! Before throwing out your lights there are hundreds of waste management companies  which help you recycle by providing suitable containers for storage. Once collected the tubes are recycled and mercury element is refined for re-use in lighting manufacture.


The average UK household uses 21 batteries a year – and out of the 30,000 tonnes of batteries thrown out, only 1,000 tonnes are recycled. Waste batteries leak harmful chemicals like lead, mercury and cadmium into the soil – and this poses a real health risk.

Most supermarkets and shops that sell batteries now have collection bins for used batteries. Some town halls, libraries or schools may also set up collection points. Look out for the Be Positive signs, or similar signs, in shop windows and in stores to find these collection points.

Car batteries are treated as hazardous waste. They must not be thrown away with your household waste but can be recycled at garages, scrap metal facilities and many local waste and recycling centres. Sometimes the specialist who replaces your battery will be able to dispose of the old one safely for you.

For businesses, a waste management company can provide storage boxes for waste batteries. When the box is full it’ll be taken to a recovery plant for specialised recovery of metallic components.

Appliances and computers

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) aims to reduce the amount of electrical and electronic equipment being produced and to encourage everyone to reuse, recycle and recover it. Computers, TVs, radios, toasters and microwaves are all examples of electronic equipment which can be recycled and recovered.

When you go to buy a new electronic appliance, you can ask the supplier to take back old electronic items when new ones are delivered. Alternatively you can take the appliance to your local authority civic amenity site where it will be recycled free of charge. You could also arrange for your local authority to collect the equipment (some local authorities provide a free collection service and others charge).

If you are a business, throwing out appliances such as computers requires you to comply with the WEE Directive by acquiring paperwork which shows you disposed of your IT responsibly and in-line with the harzardous waste removal and data protection laws. A waste management company can provide security drilling and electronic screening to completely destroy the equipment and the information it contains.

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