WEEErk it

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Nigel Harvey, chief executive at Recolight Ltd explains how specifiers can work the WEEE system to get their waste lighting recycled free of charge.

The roll out of LED luminaires continues as more companies and organisations seek to reduce their energy consumption and improve the controllability of their lighting. That means more and more traditional light fittings and fluorescent lamps are being removed and replaced. 

It is important that when specifying the lighting equipment for such new projects, engineers give proper consideration to what will happen to the waste lighting that results. And if specifiers are smart in the way they address this requirement in their specification, they can ensure it is collected and processed free of charge.

The waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) regulations require suppliers of new electrical equipment to finance the recycling of old equipment being replaced. So including this obligation within the specification can prevent some suppliers from seeking to avoid the obligation through their terms and conditions of supply.

The collection and recycling of such obligated waste is usually handled by a WEEE scheme – unless they are very small, suppliers must join such a scheme to comply with the WEEE regulations.

Once collected, waste fluorescent lamps must be recycled in one of a handful of specialist facilities in the UK. The lamps contain mercury, which needs to be carefully managed to avoid contamination to people or the environment. Waste fittings must be recycled at other facilities – they will normally be shredded, and then separated into their component materials ready for further processing, and then introduced back into the raw material supply chain.

Contributing to Increasing recycling rates

The lamp recycling rate was around 48% in 2018. This fell short of the target set by the government that year. So insisting that recycling is undertaken by the supplier’s WEEE scheme is a way of making sure that the waste equipment is properly recycled, and actually gets counted within the UK’s WEEE system.  

WEEE schemes also have a duty to ensure that the recycling they manage is undertaken in accordance with statutory guidance providing details of the best available treatment, recovery, and recycling techniques. But if the waste is simply provided to a scrap merchant, there can be no certainty that the same high environmental standards are applied.

If we are to continue to increase UK WEEE recycling rates, we all need to be vigilant to any indication that some businesses may not be recycling lamps. It is all too easy to put fluorescent tubes in the bottom of a skip. Throw on a few bricks, and they have disappeared. Not only is this very bad environmental practice – it is also unlawful.

Beware non-compliant product

Specifiers should particularly be wary of buying non-compliant product. A recent survey showed that 76% of LED lightbulbs available for sale in the UK on a leading online multi-seller marketplace were not compliant with the WEEE regulations. That meant they are not contributing to the cost of UK lamp recycling.And if they are not compliant with WEEE (where becoming compliant is relatively straightforward), how likely is it that they also comply with other legislation such as electrical safety? 

The lighting Industry and sustainability

There is no doubt that lighting has done a lot to promote sustainability. LED products have much longer lifetimes, far greater system efficacies, are more flexible and controllable, and do not contain mercury. 

In time LED will materially reduce the proportion of energy used for lighting. It is widely accepted that lighting accounts for around a fifth of electricity consumption.  As LED products are more widely adopted, that proportion can be expected to fall significantly. The associated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is a vital contribution to sustainability and tackling the climate emergency. 

Lamp recycling rates in the UK have grown faster than any other waste electrical equipment category, from 19% in 2008, to 48% in 2018. The lighting industry is unique in taking such an effective, sector specific approach to waste and recycling. With specifiers, wholesalers and manufacturers working together, the industry can be justifiably proud of its recycling record, and this additional contribution to sustainability.