Environmental Science

Don't Throw It in the Bin!

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Science  25 Jan 2013:
Vol. 339, Issue 6118, pp. 375
DOI: 10.1126/science.339.6118.375-b

Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs use between 70 and 85% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and have vastly longer lifetimes, providing the potential for substantial energy savings. However, they are much more complex in design than traditional bulbs, with potential adverse environmental impacts similar to those of consumer electronic devices. Lim et al. have assessed the environmental and resource depletion impacts from metals in all three types of bulbs, focusing on the bulbs' end of life. The metal content of CFland LED bulbs was much higher than that of incandescent bulbs, exceeding California's regulatory limits for lead, copper, and zinc in the case of CFlbulbs and for copper and lead in the case of LED bulbs; both types of bulbs would be classified as hazardous waste under U.S. federal and California state regulations. Furthermore, the availability of several metals contained in the bulbs is highly limited. There is thus an urgent need for appropriate waste management, as well as technological development to reduce the content of toxic or rare metals in the bulbs and/or extend bulb lifetimes.

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