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Can you recycle your old lamps?

It looks like just a lamp but it could have a multitude of uses.
It looks like just a lamp but it could have a multitude of uses.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

You certainly can recycle old lamps, but how and why you want to do so affects your options. A bulky, old lamp takes up substantial space in a landfill, so you'll want to avoid throwing it away if possible. Whether you choose to recycle your lamp at a waste management facility or repurpose the lamp, there are a few things to consider. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the lamp still work or does it need rewiring?
  2. Is the lamp still interesting or attractive to you in any way?
  3. Does it have sentimental value?
  4. Would you like to do something creative with the old lamp and/or its components or is donation a better option?

If the lamp is in good working order, repurposing it should be simple. If the wiring is shot, you can rewire it yourself or hire an electrician to do it for you. Junk shops or antique stores often have an electrician on staff who can do the work for a small fee.

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Next, consider what aesthetic issues you have to address. Is it the color that's unattractive? Is the shade horrendously ornate or neon pink? Those are both simple fixes since a new shade and a can of spray paint are each inexpensive, easy-to-find items. Shades are sold at a variety of retailers and repainting, mirroring or even papering an undesired color on the base could keep the lamp stylish and still relevant in your current home's look.

If you don't have the time or inclination to revamp your lamp, you could always set it in an unobtrusive corner, rather than front and center where it's more likely to be noticed and commented on. Also, try pairing the lamp with different household items. You might improve your lamp's look by placing it as a contrast color next to a houseplant or near an interesting knickknack. Experiment with other items in your house to see what works.

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If your lamp just isn't going to fit into your décor any longer, regardless of a quick makeover, then consider a creative way to repurpose it. For instance, many lamp bases are heavy enough to work as bookends while more slender bases can double as candlesticks. In fact, you can turn an old lamp into all kinds of new items:

  • Vase
  • Doorstop
  • Patio citronella holder
  • Plant basket
  • Table leg

If you're crafty and like home décor projects, the shape and size of your old lamp can inspire you to think of it as a totally different item. Most repurposing projects for old lamps are simple and only take a day or so to complete. This is a particularly good option if you want to keep the lamp around for sentimental reasons but are tired of storing it out of sight somewhere, taking up closet or attic space.

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Many lamp bases are ceramic, so if you don't mind getting rid of the pieces, you can always smash it to bits and use the resulting shards for mosaic work. Mosaic pieces can make a lovely border in a garden or for decorating other craft projects. People even add them as accent points in tiling. If the pieces are going to be exposed to moisture or other elements, treat them with a bathroom-quality sealant. Be careful about the breakage, keeping a towel around your workspace to catch any shards that might fly astray. It's a good idea to wear gardening gloves while gathering up the pieces so you can avoid nicks and cuts.

If you're not feeling up to the task of building a project around the old lamp but still don't want to get rid of it, think about ways you can just use it in another part of your home. For instance, would the lamp work in the garage or basement? A lamp plugged into a corner socket is a cheap way to brighten attics and other storage spaces. Since your root cellar or garage isn't likely going to be on any home tours that you give, the lamp's style won't need to match your overall décor.

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It may be the gift you never wanted but you can still make use of it.
It may be the gift you never wanted but you can still make use of it.
Jeffrey Hamilton/Getty Images/Lifesize/Thinkstock

If you want that lamp out of your life, donation poses a great choice. Local theater groups, even high school drama departments, love to use old lamps as props. You'll be keeping it out of a landfill and supporting the arts in your community at the same time. There may even be a nearby technical school with an electrical program -- old lamps are excellent objects for students to use as practice. If you think the lamp might have some monetary value and you'd like to profit from its vintage look, try listing it in an online auction or free Internet listing. In addition, you can do it the old-fashioned way and put it in a yard sale.

Recycling lamps can be tricky. Actually using a recycling facility for your old lamp will depend on what it's made out of and what your local center is capable of handling. While most waste management facilities accept light bulbs, ceramic lamp bases are very difficult to recycle. Your local recycling group can better handle glass bases. Ceramic, even though it begins as an eco-friendly clay, is fired and glazed, making it hard to break down and reuse. Some pottery studios or smelting facilities can recycle ceramic, but it's rare. Glass bases are a bit easier to recycle, since they're made of a substance that most facilities are used to handling. Many recycling centers will only take glass lamps that have had the wiring stripped out first and then they'll still need to be sorted by color.

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Yes, there are numerous ways to reuse, repurpose and recycle old lamps. Depending on your time, resources and interests, there are a lot of green options for dealing with this cumbersome piece of décor. If you're creative, consider how you can repurpose a lamp for a few more years of life. If you're feeling generous, look into local donation options. If you think you'd like to make some cash from a vintage lamp that doesn't suit you personally, sell it using an online site or yard sale. Finally, if you really just want to recycle your lamp the traditional way, contact your local waste facility and find out what your options are.

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Sources

  • Blydenburgh, Stephanie. "Make it Mosaic: How to Tile a Tabletop." DigsMagazine.com. (April 27, 2011).http://www.digsmagazine.com/lounge/lounge_tiletable.htm
  • Davies, Anna. "How to Paint Ceramic Tile." Redbook.com. (April 27, 2011).http://www.redbookmag.com/recipes-home/tips-advice/paint-ceramic-tile
  • Debransky, Megan. "Why Glass Comes in Different Colors." Earth 911.com (April 27, 2011).http://earth911.com/news/2011/04/08/why-glass-comes-in-different-colors/
  • Earth 911.com. "Recycling." (April 27, 2011).http://earth911.com/recycling/
  • Editors of Publications International, Ltd. "How to Rewire a Lamp in 9 Steps." HowStuffWorks.com. (April 27, 2011).https://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/repair/how-to-rewire-a-lamp.htm
  • EPA.gov. "List of Retailers that recycle." (April 27, 2011).http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflrecycling.html#whererecycle
  • EPA.gov."Mercury Lamps." (April 27, 2011).http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastetypes/universal/lamps/faqs.htm
  • House and Home.org."Decorating Lamp Shades." (April 27, 2011).http://www.houseandhome.org/how-to-decorate-lamp-shades

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