Main content area

Potential Environmental Impacts from the Metals in Incandescent, Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL), and Light-Emitting Diode (LED) Bulbs

Lim, Seong-Rin, Kang, Daniel, Ogunseitan, Oladele A., Schoenung, Julie M.
Environmental Science & Technology 2013 v.47 no.2 pp. 1040-1047
European Union, aluminum, copper, design for environment, energy conservation, energy efficiency, energy industry, energy policy, environmental impact, fluorescent lamps, greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous waste, incandescent lamps, life cycle assessment, longevity, mercury, renewable energy sources, toxicity, uncertainty, vapors, zinc, California
Artificial lighting systems are transitioning from incandescent to compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs in response to the U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act and the EU Ecodesign Directive, which leads to energy savings and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Although CFLs and LEDs are more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs, they require more metal-containing components. There is uncertainty about the potential environmental impacts of these components and whether special provisions must be made for their disposal at the end of useful life. Therefore, the objective of this study is to analyze the resource depletion and toxicity potentials from the metals in incandescent, CFL, and LED bulbs to complement the development of sustainable energy policy. We assessed the potentials by examining whether the lighting products are to be categorized as hazardous waste under existing U.S. federal and California state regulations and by applying life cycle impact-based and hazard-based assessment methods (note that “life cycle impact-based method” does not mean a general life cycle assessment (LCA) but rather the elements in LCA used to quantify toxicity potentials). We discovered that both CFL and LED bulbs are categorized as hazardous, due to excessive levels of lead (Pb) leachability (132 and 44 mg/L, respectively; regulatory limit: 5) and the high contents of copper (111 000 and 31 600 mg/kg, respectively; limit: 2500), lead (3860 mg/kg for the CFL bulb; limit: 1000), and zinc (34 500 mg/kg for the CFL bulb; limit: 5000), while the incandescent bulb is not hazardous (note that the results for CFL bulbs excluded mercury vapor not captured during sample preparation). The CFLs and LEDs have higher resource depletion and toxicity potentials than the incandescent bulb due primarily to their high aluminum, copper, gold, lead, silver, and zinc. Comparing the bulbs on an equivalent quantity basis with respect to the expected lifetimes of the bulbs, the CFLs and LEDs have 3–26 and 2–3 times higher potential impacts than the incandescent bulb, respectively. We conclude that in addition to enhancing energy efficiency, conservation and sustainability policies should focus on the development of technologies that reduce the content of hazardous and rare metals in lighting products without compromising their performance and useful lifespan.