Are LEDs Sustainable?
Among the potential benefits of LEDs is the elimination of mercury. But LED lamps pose other environmental issues. Here are several issues associated with LEDs that could tarnish their green halo.At present, LEDs are not overly energy efficient, and with the exception of a few outstanding uses (like exit signs and color effects), LEDs probably won't save energy compared to fluorescent alternatives. At least, not yet.LED fabrication is a form of electronics manufacturing. The process involves environmental hazards including the use of plastics, volatile chemicals, and heavy metals. A lot of LED processing occurs in Asia, in part to avoid the high costs of environmentally regulated semiconductor manufacturing.There is considerable energy use expended in making LEDs, with some products literally traveling once around the world before ending up on a jobsite.LED lamp life is probably far shorter than the 100,000 hours we've always been told. Practical systems could last as little as 10,000 hours. And generally, you don't change the “lamp”—more than likely, you'll replace all of the electronics, the housing, and maybe even the wiring. How green is that?Finally, when LED lighting systems end up in the trash, so do the electronics, including copper, solder, and plastic.
The LED industry has a chance to solve all of this before the problems get out of hand. Let's hope it does.