How to Make a Mini Terrarium from an Incandescent Light Bulb

Reader Contribution by Molly Daly
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Occasionally, there can be unintentional side effects from switching to more appropriate choices. For example, when incandescent light bulbs are replaced with more efficient and longer lasting technology (such as LEDs and CFLs), waste is created. As more people choose to reduce their energy consumption and buy newer, energy-saving light bulbs, more incandescents are disposed of.

PowerSave Campus, a program working on California university campuses to increase energy efficiency, presented Humboldt State University students with a way to divert incandescent light bulb waste by hosting a terrarium-making workshop, where students could up-cycle their incandescents into something new: mini terrariums! 

PowerSave Campus set up a table at the Campus Center for Appropriate Technology and provided materials (incandescents, plants, tools) for students to use. The workshop had a huge turnout. The workshop encouraged students to swap out incandescent bulbs for a more efficient type of light taught students how to turn their incandescents into terrariums at home.

CFL and LED light bulbs use 10-20 percent of the energy of an incandescent and have a much longer lifespan, which compounds the monetary and energy savings.

How to Make a Mini Terrarium

1. Remove the metal plate from the bottom of the bulb by twisting it up and pulling the small metal piece out.

2. Break the black glass and remove all the pieces. Depending on the brand of the bulb, the black glass can be easy or tough to remove. If you are finding it difficult to remove, you will need to use skinny pliers that will fit in the hole left once you removed the metal plate. You can leverage the pliers against one side of the black glass to break it apart.

3. Break the inner glass inside the bulb by leveraging the pliers against one side of the light bulb and pushing against the glass lightly in the opposite direction. The glass is very fragile, so be sure to be careful when breaking it or you could break the actual light bulb, too. The glass pieces and wires will need to be pulled out through the opening.

4. Some light bulbs are coated with a white powder. This can be easily washed off by rinsing the bulb in water. If the powder is not wiping off easily, soap will help.

5. Fill the light bulb with dirt. How much dirt to use is up to you, but most fill the bulb up to the middle of the curve of the light bulb.

6. Pick your favorite small native plants, or purchase various plants that stay relatively small in size or do not grow too quickly, and do not require a lot of water. This will help you create a terrarium that you can enjoy for the longest amount of time possible. For the workshop, various lichens, mosses, and succulents were collected to create beautiful terrariums.     


Quick Tips

1. Dried leaves and small twigs covered with lichens can really add some color and character to your terrarium.

2. Don’t be afraid to add a lot of lichen! They require hardly any maintenance and they make terrariums look great.

3. You can arrange the plants by using any tool that is long and skinny (i.e. long tweezers, small scissors, or even screwdrivers work).

4. If you are interested in making a terrarium with only succulents, you should consider using small rocks as a substrate instead of soil. Many succulents prefer small rocks since succulents require good drainage and loose substrate.

5. You can put 3 to 4 small dots on the bottom of the bulb with a hot glue gun so your terrarium can sit on a flat surface without toppling over. Or hang your terrariums up by tying them with a string or wrapping them with wire and hanging it at your window.

First and final photo by Matthew Ware

Middle photos by Ivan Soto

PowerSave Campusis a program of the Alliance to Save Energy, funded by the investor-owned utilities of California, and is a student-driven energy efficiency education program that promotes careers in the green workforce, generates actual energy savings, and increases awareness and education of the importance of energy efficiency and water conservation. Projects range from energy audits, competitions, academic projects, and career events that involve students, faculty, and community members. Click here to learn more about PowerSave Campus. You can read more about what Humboldt State’s PowerSave team is up to by signing up for our monthly newsletter on the HSU PowerSave website.

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