LED lighting does not rely on mercury – a toxic pollutant that can have catastrophic impacts on the climate and ecosystems.
Safer Waste Stream Management
At their end of life, the majority of all fluorescent bulbs are discarded into general waste streams where they go on to contaminate landfills, soil, streams, rivers, and ultimately the oceans with mercury. Typically less than 10% of mercury in fluorescents is recovered. Mercury-free LEDs are easier to dispose and manage at their end-of-life.
Even in wealthier countries that have systems in place for electrical and electronic waste management, recycling is still limited. The small size and weight of bulbs makes them easier for consumers to dispose of in general waste. In addition, due to their fragility, fluorescent bulbs break easily when discarded in general waste streams, releasing mercury into the environment and putting public health at risk. A 2016 report by the Danish Environment Protection Agency found that Denmark had achieved an overall bulb collection rate of only 36%. Note that Denmark has one of the highest collection rates in the EU.
Due to their toxicity, the European Commission is considering phasing out certain fluorescent bulbs under the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive. The best way to avoid hazardous mercury leaking into our environment is to end its use in lighting.
Avoid Environmental Dumping
As lighting markets in wealthy countries shift to clean LED lighting, less-regulated markets may experience “environmental dumping” of old fluorescent technologies. Manufacturing countries that cannot sell mercury-laden, inefficient lighting products in their own markets, will export to un- and under-regulated markets– largely in developing economies. This puts the human and environmental safety of people in those countries at risk. By developing and implementing policies that restrict the import and sale of fluorescent bulbs, governments protect their citizens and safeguard environmental resources.
or less of mercury in lighting products is recovered
Due to insufficient toxic chemical disposal infrastructure, the majority of mercury from fluorescent lighting is released into the environment.
metric tonnes of mercury pollution removed.
Accelerating the lighting market to LEDs would avoid massive amounts of mercury pollution from leaking into the environment, both from the lamps themselves and from avoided burning of coal in power plants.
CO2 emissions avoided between 2025-2050
Transitioning to LED lighting would avoid CO2 emissions equivalent to getting ALL passenger cars (globally) off the road for a whole year.
Transitioning to LEDs will
Support Climate Resiliency
Clean LED lighting uses about half as much electricity as mercury-added lighting, translating to massive reductions in global CO2 emissions. A phase out of fluorescent lightbulbs in 2025 could reduce CO2 emissions by an estimated 3.5 GT between 2025-2050– equivalent to getting All passenger cars (globally), off the road for a whole year.
Additionally, LEDs lifespans are 2-3 times those of fluorescent bulbs, significantly reducing the amount of waste created by the lighting sector.
Once released, elemental mercury can travel hundreds of miles through the wind and remain actively toxic in the environment for decades. It accumulates in water bodies where it converts into toxic methylmercury and enters the food chain, posing a significant threat to wildlife and food systems.
Mercury cycles back and forth between the air and soil, all the while changing chemical forms. It can never be removed, rather migrates to new locations and is eventually buried under soils and sediments.