Can LED lights be recycled?

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Are you throwing away your broken LEDs? Wait. Not yet. 

You might be wondering what to do with those, eh? Are LED lights recyclable? Short answer, yes. You can recycle your LEDs. May it be LED lamps, strips, or even a sterilization tube. It is recyclable.

The demand and production of LEDs are increasing over time. A research report projected a global LED light market to reach an annual growth of 12.5% share from 2021-2028. The data means more waste from LEDs accumulates. But the good thing is, here are key points to remember to handle your LED waste properly. And to make the most out of them.

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LED Waste

With an average lifespan of 15,000 hours, LEDs are cost-efficient in the long run. It allows you to save 75% of expenditures compared to incandescent bulbs. And about 15% savings compared with fluorescents. It is budget-friendly. But it is also environmentally friendly as well!

To know more about how LEDs are energy-saving, read our article on how LED is energy-saving. (Read: How are LED lights energy-saving?)

LED lights last longer than their counterparts. Therefore, the waste generated from LEDs is also significantly lower. In Europe, only 2% of waste is from LED lights. 

But even if LED lights can last for a year or so, you have to dispose of them after some time. Proper disposal of electronic waste, such as LED, should be upheld. And current technology does not allow for 100% recyclable LEDs. 

So, here are some ways to help you in recycling your LED lights. 

LED Recycling

Unlike other lights, LEDs are not household hazardous waste or HHW. If you check the packaging, it has a logo with a crossed bin. This means that they should not be thrown in the garbage, but have to be recycled.

And you might want to consider these clever and resourceful ways how to recycle your trash. 

Repurpose your lights

You are welcome to experiment on how you use your LEDs. There’s no need to buy new lights for every season. Repurposing your lights can save you as much as 100 USD a year.

Since Christmas is approaching, making DIY decorations is in. You can repurpose your old LED lamps by making recycled Christmas balls, snow globes, or vases. You can use old, non-functioning Christmas lights as hanging decorations, too! Let your artsy side be shown in the way you elevate your LEDs.

But recycling is not only limited to nonfunctional lights. You can also reinvent the way you use your current LED lights. If you are tired of your old LED strips or bulb lamps, you can upgrade by making DIY plastic lamps or pendant lamps

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One common reason people discard LED strips is when some parts stop working. But you can cut your strips and it would still work. If you follow the right steps, you can repurpose your LED strips to make them usable. (Read: Can I Cut My Led Strip Lights?)

Scavenge electronic components

Once the LED lamp is dead, it does not necessarily mean all of its components stop working. You can open and disassemble LED lights and scavenge for useful parts. 

Scavenging for useful electronic parts is like a treasure hunt for enthusiasts. Check the printed circuit board or the PCB. You can reuse some of its components. Some reusable components include resistors, capacitors, transistors, and diodes. Make sure you have the right tools when dealing with these parts. 

You might also want to check the LED module of your LED strips. Look for reusable LED beads. With some tinkering, you can create your circuit using the scavenged parts from your old lights.

But recycling the parts individually could be tough. It is also rigorous and the effort may not justify the value of the product you recover. 

According to a 2019 study by Chen et. al, the need for recycling PCB is an enormous challenge. And the use of more sophisticated techniques to recycle it as a whole is needed. 

(It might not be worth it, buddy. Phew, tough call.)

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Recover valuable metals

Did you know that LEDs contain valuable and some precious metals? These metals are used during the manufacturing of the product. It is distributed from the PCBs, to the LED module, and even on the LED beads. 

There are specialized recycling facilities that can recover metals in LED lights. These facilities employ a process that is designed to make LEDs as environmentally friendly as possible. 

According to a 2020 study, LED lights contain silver and gold. And some amounts of gallium, magnesium, arsenic, and cerium. But some of these metals are toxic to humans. That’s why recycling by recovering valuable metals is not advised to be done in your home. (Not unless you are a recycling professional, of course.)

For every ton of LED lamps, there is an equivalent of 4,340 USD from gold and silver extraction (Cenci et. al, 2020). Copper is also significantly abundant in LEDs. Traces of tin and nickel is also in appreciable amount. 

In an assessment of the LED metallic composition by Cenci et. al (2020), aluminum is the most abundant metallic component. Taking up about 23.5% of tubular lamps and 24.6% of bulbs.

And with all these percentages of metals, selling your unused and old LEDs could mean dirty money. People and facilities are also willing to buy your trash in exchange for some cash!

But with the current technologies that we have, only about 55% of LED lights are recovered. The rest is lost during the process. Cenci et. al (2020) further notes that if 100% recycled, 52.95% of tubular lamps’ economic value can be recovered. The rate is 53.79% for bulb lamps. 

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LED Disposal

If you don’t want to recycle your LEDs, there’s still a way to do it right. Let other people handle your waste for you. In this way, you are still helping the environment by being a responsible consumer. 

Know your local policies

Dispose of the waste through your local district. But beware of how your city is handling its solid waste. Read about your local guidelines. Some areas are more strict than others. There could be fines if you will not comply. 

For example, in Singapore, there are designated waste bins for e-wastes. They also employ several recycling initiatives to encourage people to recycle electronic wastes from LED lights to discarded phones. 

In the USA, the Environmental Protection Agency also laid down its guidelines on how to dispose of lighting wastes. Especially those PCB-containing ballasts. 

Contact recycling organizations

You can also call non-profit organizations that advocate for recycling e-waste. You can Google the nearest local groups for this cause. They would gladly help you recycle your LED lights. 

The Electronic Recycling Association, for example, has drop depots. They also offer pick-up services to get your discarded LEDs from the comfort of your home. The organization is based in Canada. 

Another non-profit organization that could help you is the National Center for Electronics Recycling. They were formed in 2005 and is focused on recycling used electronics in the United States. 

In parts of Asia, there are also several groups and initiatives dedicated to handling e-waste. Examples of these are the SGS in the Philippines, and the Baidu Recycle in China.

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How to recycle other people’s LED lights around

The method is similar to, in the accommodation of the community or school to open recycling public welfare activities, both can be recycled can also call on more people to save. Or post a call or call on the Internet, as well as contact groups interested in recycling for publicity, etc.

Some schools also have their system of handling e-wastes to help students practice proper handling and disposal. Higher education institutes also offer community extension programs. These seminars and workshops allow you to develop ideas on recycling your e-waste.

If you want to connect with other people, you may visit these websites:

You can also check craigslist or your local newspaper for recycling activities. Connect with your neighbors and within your community. Recycling is more fun if you do it with someone.

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LED Storage

If you are uncertain of what to do with your lights, store them. There’s nothing wrong with storing old, unused LED lamps and strip lights. You just have to do it right.

Some people only buy and use LED lights occasionally. Based on Google trends, most people look for LED lights every December. And then slowly decreases for the rest of the year. So to save money, it would be better if the lights are stored if they are not in use.

Storing your LEDs is also good if you want to dispose of them in bulk. Or if you have plans on recycling them. Or doing your DIYs. It doesn’t hurt to keep them in storage as long as done properly.

If not done properly, it could do more harm than good. But if you have ample space in your cupboards or drawers, give space for your LEDs.

Here’s what you should consider in storing your LEDs:

  • Store them in a dry place. Moisture can ruin the electronic parts of your lights.
  • Keep them away from children and animals. Some lights have very small parts and might cause choking hazards. Better be safe than sorry.
  • Organize them. Make sure to arrange them properly in cabinets or drawers. Label them so that you know which is which.
  • Check every once in a while. Open them once every three months or so. Check the status of your storage.

Proper storage of your LEDs is as good as recycling and disposal. If you stored them right, you ensure quality and condition. And reusing them feels like it’s good as new.

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LED the way

Sounds good, right? So, before you throw away your unused LEDs, think which option will work for you best. It won’t hurt to pause, use Google, and search for it. Think twice before you throw away trash which could be cash just waiting to be discovered. 

Recycling your LEDs doesn’t only save you money. It also has a valuable impact on the environment. So always choose to recycle. If you don’t want to do it, other people are always willing to help. And if you have plans for future use, store them properly.

I hope this article helps you and may the light LED your way to recycling. Have fun recycling! 

References:

  1. LED Lighting Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By End-use (Residential, Commercial), By Product (Lamps, Luminaires), By Application (Indoor, Outdoor), By Region, And Segment Forecasts, 2021 – 2028 (April 2021). 
  2. Yu, Donne (November 4, 2021). How are LED lights energy-saving? 
  3. Halper, Mark (May 17, 2018). LED lamp waste: There’s good news and bad. 
  4. Stanford University. Frequently Asked Questions: Household Hazardous Waste. 
  5. Arduino Project Hub. Christmas Projects. 
  6. Dundas, David (August 22, 2014). DIY Plastic Spoon Lamp by Yaroslav Olenev. 
  7. Patrick, Allison (February 15, 2011). Project 15 Week 19 – Recycled Plastic Bag Pendant Light. 
  8. Yu, Donne (September 26, 2021). Can I cut my Led Strip Lights? 
  9. Reusing old circuit components (2013). Electronics Stack Exchange. 
  10. Chen, Z., Yang, M., Shi, Q. et al. Recycling Waste Circuit Board Efficiently and Environmentally Friendly through Small-Molecule Assisted Dissolution. Sci Rep 9, 17902 (2019). 
  11. Marcelo Pilotto Cenci, Frederico Christ Dal Berto, Bianca Wurlitzer Castillo & Hugo Marcelo Veit (2020) Precious and critical metals from wasted LED lamps: characterization and evaluation, Environmental Technology, DOI: 10.1080/09593330.2020.1856939 
  12. Cenci, M. P., Dal Berto, F. C., Schneider, E. L., & Veit, H. M. (2020). Assessment of LED lamps components and materials for a recycling perspective. Waste Management, 107, 285–293. doi:10.1016/j.wasman.2020.04.028 
  13. Electronic Waste. Towards Zero Waste 
  14. Lighting Waste Disposal 
  15. Electronic Waste Disposal 
  16. Electronic Recycling Association 
  17. National Center for Electronics Recycling
  18. Specialty Electronics Recycling
  19. Baidu Recycle
  20. Great Nonprofits
  21. LED lights. Google Trends
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