The U.S. Department of Energy has released the results of Part 3 of its inquiry into the total cost of LEDs relative to incandescents and CFLs. The news is good: LEDs were found to have a “much smaller environmental impact” than the older technologies. While LEDs do have a higher cost of production, and more embodied energy per lamp, this is far outweighed by the actual energy savings it provides over its long life.
And where do LEDs go when they die? The models tested were generally found to have landfill-acceptable levels of metals and chemicals. However, many exceeded at least one California restriction, usually for copper, zinc, or nickel. The concentration of these metals was found to be comparable with that of cell phones and other small electronics.
The study called for further research into the best practices for LED recycling. Until clearer guidelines are established, it is likely best to treat expired LEDs as e-waste – especially those in California!
See the full announcement on Energy.gov: http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/publications/pdfs/ssl/postings_04-11-13.pdf