How to dispose of lighters

How To Dispose of Lighters Correctly and Safely

Do you have a used-up lighter lying around? Don't just toss it in the trash! Here's your guide on how to dispose of lighters, keeping you and the environment safe.

We all use lighters for various purposes - from lighting a cigarette or a candle to starting a cozy campfire. While some lighters need lighter fluid to work, others are rechargeable. But regardless of their type, they all have one thing in common: they can be hazardous waste if disposed of incorrectly. 

It's easy to overlook the potential harm that lighters and lighter fluids can cause us and the environment. That's why this article is here to help. We'll break down the types of lighters, the impact of lighter fluid and the flammable materials they contain, and, most importantly, the proper steps to take when disposing of lighters. So grab that old, leaking lighter from your drawer and dive in.

Types of lighters 

According to the safety standard for cigarette lighters, there are four groups of lighters. They are:

1. Cigarette lighters 

Cigarette lighters are a lighting tool for cigarette, cigar, and pipe smokers. As a common way to create a flame, we can also use it to ignite other things. Cigarette lighters differ from lighters that light other smoking products like fireplace fuels and charcoal or gas grills.

2. Disposable lighters 

Disposable lighters are lighters you can't refill with fuel. Disposable and refillable lighters use fuels like butane, isobutane, propane, other liquefied hydrocarbons, or any mixture whose vapor pressure is 75⁰F and exceeds the gauge pressure of 15 psi. 

Also, disposable lighters have a customs valuation below $2, adjusted every five years to the price of $0.25. They adjusted the prices according to the Producer Price Index for Miscellaneous Fabricated Products from June 1983. An example of a disposable lighter is the Bic lighter that most convenience stores sell.

3. Novelty lighters 

Novelty lighters refer to lighters used for entertainment and visual effect purposes. Novelty lighters also refer to lighters that look like other objects, mostly resembling toys. For instance, they can shape lighters into cars, motorcycles, guns, animals, musical instruments, etc. 

The audio effects often include whistles, animal sounds, buzzers, beepers, and other noises unrelated to a lighter's function. Countries like Colorado, Virginia, Maine, and other countries in the EU banned the production, trade, and importation of novelty lighters because they appeal to children below the age of 102.

Novelty lighters use various lighter fluids. They can work with butane and other lighter fuels.

4. Surrogate lighters

Surrogate lighters are substitutes for working lighters.

How does that work? 

Manufacturers specifically design surrogate lighters to assess the required safety measures to protect children handling lighters. So, they use a replica instead of giving them real, working lighters. 

Surrogate lighters are the exact replicas of the copy manufacturers want to test. They are the same size, weight, and shape. However, surrogate lighters don't use liquid fluids since they are just for testing sequences. 

It must also resemble the lighter as regards problems that could affect child resistance and protection. Since Surrogate lighters don't produce fire, they have an audio alert that signifies they have operated the lighter like the real one.

Can you recycle lighters?

Lighter waste on the beach
Lighter waste on the beach. Photo by Naja Bertolt Jensen on Unsplash

No, you can't recycle disposable lighters. The material used to make disposable lighters is plastic or metal, with plastic being the most common material used to manufacture lighters. 

The majority of recycling facilities do not accept lighters because they consider them to be hazardous waste. Manufacturers produce lighters with dangerous materials, including plastic and butane. Further, lighters typically use plastic and metal together, which prove difficult to separate for proper recycling. So, do not throw lighters in the recycling bin. 

However, a local household hazardous waste site might offer specialized programs for Bic lighters and various brands that provide similar functionality alongside other hazardous waste items.

Additionally, plasma lighters are electronic devices and should be disposed of like other e-waste.

Contact your local recycling center to find out if they accept lighters.

Related: Check out our guides to what can't be recycled and our recycling tips at home to find out more about recycling options for those non-standard items.

The dangers of lighters to the environment

We shouldn’t throw a lighter in a trash bin, whether household trash or regular trash, because a lighter is highly flammable. 

Liquid lighter fluid, used to produce the flame when sparked, is a harmful, hazardous component of lighters. Lighter fluid can contain a variety of hydrocarbons:

1. Benzene  

Benzene is a colorless or sometimes yellow liquid at room temperature. It is very flammable and escapes into the atmosphere quickly.

2. Butane 

Butane is a colorless, odorless, and flammable hydrocarbon as a liquified gas. Butane is found in cigarette lighters and refill packs.

3. Naphtha 

Naphtha is another form of lighter fluid used to power lighters. Manufacturers use a 100% naphtha volume, but they also have other chemical ingredients. Lighter brands that use Naphtha as a lighter fluid are Zippo and Ronosol. 

4. Propane 

Propane, or liquified petroleum gas, is a clean burning gas that powers light, medium, and heavy-duty propane duties. Like other hydrocarbon gasses, it is also a colorless and odorless liquid. 

5. Hexamine 

Hexamine is produced with trioxane. It burns, releasing no smoke, nor does it leave ashes. Hexamine contains a high energy density of 30 megajoules per kg. 

6. Lacolene 

Lacolene is a colorless hydrocarbon with a strong odor. It is a complex mixture of aliphatic hydrocarbons, paraffin, and cycloparaffins.

How do these hydrocarbons impact the environment?

Now that we know the fuel manufacturers use to produce disposable or refillable lighters let’s discuss how harmful lighter fluid is to human health and the environment. 

First, producing lighter fluid is a process harmful to the environment. It leads to hydrocarbon pollution, a product of their extraction. Hydrocarbon pollution prevents the process of oxygen exchange between the environment and water1, which causes damage to plants, animals, and water.

Water contaminated with hydrocarbons turns carcinogenic and changes the genetic composition of the earth's flora and fauna. It often leads to a reduction in farm harvest, and humans suffer through famine. Also, it prevents the photosynthesis of other plants in water because light can't penetrate hydrocarbon-contaminated waters.

Impact on humans

Its effects on humans are just as serious. Lighter fluid poisoning occurs when there is a leakage, and someone swallows or inhales it. It affects the ears, nose, eyes, throat, kidneys, bladder, stomach, and intestines. 

Its symptoms include loss of vision, severe throat pain, and severe burning pain in the oral orifice. Lighter fluid poisoning leads to a reduction in the affected person’s urine output. Lighter fuel in the stomach and intestinal organs leads to severe stomach pain, vomiting, and blood excretion. It can also burn the esophagus.

It makes breathing difficult and causes severe chest pain. The effects of exposure to lighter fluid don't end there. It also affects our nervous systems. It causes dizziness, extreme sleepiness, insomnia, headache, uncoordinated movements, tremors, and seizures. In addition, it leads to skin irritation and burns holes in the skin tissue.

How to get rid of disposable lighters 

yellow lighter
Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash

To avoid them ending up in the environment or accidentally falling into kids' hands, where they might be exposed to harmful liquids, we must throw our used disposable lighters in the proper garbage collection. If we just dispose of it in our regular trash, it ends up in landfill piles, or worse, washes into the ocean, and birds and marine animals ingest it. 

Since recycling centers consider disposable lighters as household hazardous waste, we must learn how to properly dispose of lighters in the garbage without exposing the toxic chemicals to the environment. 

Here's how to dispose of disposable lighters:

  • Check if your local recycling centers accept hazardous materials before disposing of them in your recycling bin. If they don’t accept them, don’t try and recycle them in the curbside collection. 
  • Check the label instructions of your lighters to see if the manufacturer left recycling or disposal instructions. 
  • Do not put your half-used lighter with fuel inside into the garbage. 
  • Some stores offer a return program. You can drop off your used lighters at stores that provide return programs. 
  • You can wipe the inside of your lighter of all the fuel to make disposal safer. 
  • You can also bury your lighter in a bucket full of sand, gravel, rocks, or any other material that isn't flammable for up to two weeks. This gets rid of any residual fuel left in the lighter. 
  • Before disposal, you get rid of all remaining lighter fluid by burning it. However, you need to be careful when you do this. Turn your lighter on safely away from flammable materials to avoid a fire hazard, and let the excess fuel burn out until it's empty. Depending on how much fuel is left in the lighter, this can take a few minutes.
  • Once all the lighter fluid has burned off, if your local recycling facility doesn’t accept them, placing them in the standard trash can or regular household garbage is the only option left. 
  • Do not, under any circumstances, pour lighter fuel into the drain because it will erode septic tanks and sewers. 

Conclusion 

There's no denying that lighters are essential tools in our daily lives, but it's crucial to remember the importance of disposing of them properly. Taking the right approach to lighter disposal can prevent potential fires, health complications, and environmental damage from hazardous materials.

So, now that you know how to dispose of lighters, consider making some eco-friendly choices too. Lighter refills can extend the life of your lighter, while rechargeable lighters powered by electricity offer a safer alternative to traditional lighter fluid models. And remember the humble match - a biodegradable option that's been around for ages.

By being mindful of what goes in our trash bins and choosing sustainable alternatives, we can all do our part to protect the planet, one lighter (or match) at a time.

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1

Srivastava, M., Srivastava, A., Yadav, A., & Rawat, V. (2019). Source and Control of Hydrocarbon Pollution. IntechOpen. doi: 10.5772/intechopen.86487

2

EUR-Lex - 32011D0176 - EN - EUR-Lex. (2011, March 21). Retrieved February 8, 2023

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash
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