February 9, 2023
Emilio is one of the brains behind Ström, a sustainable lighting design company he co-founded with his partner Anna.
My sustainable lighting business has given me a glimpse into the often-misrepresented world of modern lighting. Again and again, LED lights have cropped up as one of the most misleading products on the market. Homeowners can’t be blamed for wanting the most cost-effective light fittings, especially when they come with a number of other benefits. But that’s the problem; marketers present LEDs as the ultimate option for homeowners but they ignore the growing concerns around retrofitting, closed-protocol products, and WEEE waste.
The lighting industry has undergone significant shifts in the last few years which have resulted in LED lights being the go-to choice for energy-conscious householders. Tungsten lights, which dominated the market before LED lights took the spotlight, became significantly less popular when the UK government banned the sale of tungsten Halogen lights. This legislature came into effect in September of 2021, and fluorescent lights soon filled the void.
Fluorescent lights are widely known as one of the more sustainable lighting options, but they do not compare to incandescent bulbs. Householders soon found that their fluorescent lights took too long to turn on, and even then they were stark and dim.
When LED technology caught up to fluorescent lights, there was no competition. LED lights are made from electrical components that emit light when electrons move throughout a semiconductor. These kinds of lights promise longevity, energy-efficiency, and low voltage operation.
Despite efforts to portray LED lights as the best economic and environmental option, they raise more questions than they answer. They are a short-term solution to affordability concerns, but they will have a long-term impact on the environment.
Modern lighting manufacturers are faced with a dilemma. Before LEDs entered the market, consumers understood that they had to buy lamp shades and light bulbs separately. Now, manufacturers have to either pre-install LED lights (giving them far greater control over the end result) or sell the products separately.
The latter option has given rise to a new type of LEDs. Retrofitted LEDs are an attempt to squeeze all the necessary electricals into the shape and form of an old tungsten light bulb. The quality of the end product is far more varied than standard tungsten lamps, which leads to more WEEE waste.
Closed-protocol products are not compatible with products from other brands. Repairs and replacement parts have to come straight from the manufacturer, otherwise they do not work. Unsurprisingly, a lot of LED lights are closed-protocol products.
The advent of smart home devices, which are transforming the future of lighting, has made exclusivity a normal part of modern home technology. The idea of exclusivity breeds brand-brand loyalty, creating a never-ending loop of purchasing new LED ceiling lights, related gadgets, and replacement parts.
You can learn more about the dangers of a linear economy in our previous article.
In our increasingly linear economy, transparent supply chains are hard to find. To create transparent chains, manufacturers need to know what is happening at every stage of the process, including design, procurement, and production.
Amazon is one of the main vehicles for irresponsibly sourced products. It gives unethical sellers a platform. Take LED light strips for instance, a very popular product that usually sells for a few pounds. The distance that a single roll of LED lights travels from China to the UK is astounding.
At Ström, we only work with manufacturers that have a detailed supply chain. Read about our ethical approach to lighting for more information.
Old-school sustainable lights like tungsten light bulbs are easy to recycle. Householders only had to dispose of the glass and the metal wire. LED light fittings are much more complicated. People who buy LED products have to contend with LEDs, resistors, electrical components, and a number of other dangerous materials.
In the first quarter of 2022, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (better known asthe WEEE waste directive) collected 1,033 metric tons of gas discharge lamps and LED light sources. This is more than double the collection rate of 454 metric tons in early 2020.
With between 3 to 9% of UK householders not recycling at all or only recycling occasionally, it is extremely unlikely that all LED products are disposed of according to WEEE’s guidelines.
Right to Repair Regulations are an attempt to combat WEEE waste in the modern lighting industry. The regulations, which came into effect on the 24th of September 2021, contain strict rules about new ecodesign and labelling requirements for specific electrical products. The main takeaway is that ‘professional repairers’ (like the qualified London electricians at TaskHer) must have access to spare parts and technical information. In layman’s terms, this means that manufacturers have to make spare parts available for light sources, electric motors, TVs, and other electrical products.
Right to Repair Regulations are forcing modern lighting manufacturers to take a more modular approach. Instead of throwing away old bulbs, householders can now simply buy replacements online and clip them in. The relatively new rules also eliminate one of the bigger issues surrounding modern sustainable lighting designs: closed-protocol products.
But this is just one branch of the sustainable lighting problem. The UK government is just reacting to the end product, rather than the initial problem. Right to Repair Regulations might distract environmental activists for a moment, but there still needs to be serious reforms around sustainable lighting designs. Householders’ concerns about the affordability of light bulbs, fixtures, and electricity are overshadowing the real problem of materials, designs, and recycling.
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