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Aiming at moving targets

The recent revision of the WEEE Directive is set to impose more stringent targets for the recycling of electronic waste and will impose an extra burden on those responsible for its disposal. But who exactly is responsible for making the required changes? Amanda Allen looks at the implications for the lighting industry

With the lighting industry growing year on year, the amount of waste we produce is also increasing, placing a significant burden on those responsible for its disposal. That burden will increase further in the coming years following a recent recast of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive, which is set to increase WEEE recycling targets drastically.

The most noteworthy change for the lighting industry is an increase in the targets for WEEE recycling carried out on an annual basis. Currently the targets require countries to collect, on average, 4kg of WEEE per head of population.

The new targets are set to present more of a challenge, according to Recolight’s Nigel Harvey. “The new targets are certainly going to be harder to hit,” he says. “The UK comfortably exceeds the current targets and collects closer to 8kg per head.”

The change, which will take effect in 2016, looks at the average weight of electrical equipment that has been sold in a given country over the previous three years and the new target is to recycle 45 per cent of that figure. This will then increase further in 2019 to 65 per cent.

“Essentially, we face a challenging target in four years’ time and then an even more challenging target in seven years’ time”
Nigel Harvey, Recolight

The big question for the lighting industry is how much of a burden the new targets will impose and who exactly is responsible for making the changes needed. Ernest Magog, chief executive of Lumicom, hopes the legislation won’t burden the industry unduly. “I really believe that, in times of austerity, legislation that imposes a burden on industry should be closely scrutinised. Any measures proposed need to be proportionate and beneficial,” he says.

John Bullock is a lighting designer and director of GreenSpec Light, a programme designed to encourage companies to formally engage in corporate sustainability. He takes a slightly different view on the recast of the WEEE Directive, believing that radical changes in the way the industry manages waste are inevitable if we are to avoid resource shortages in the future.

“The problem with the WEEE Directive, and other similar initiatives, is that everyone sees them as a pain, rather than an inevitability that needs to be embraced,” he says. “The truth of the matter is that we are running out of resources and we are throwing too much stuff away. One day we will probably start mining landfill as a rich source of materials, because of the amount of valuable material that we are throwing away.”

Re-use of equipment

Slightly more critical of the recast, Kevan Shaw, of KSLD, believes that the gap between the intent of the regulation and what it has achieved in practice is too great. He would like to see a greater emphasis placed on the re-use and refurbishment of lighting equipment.

“Tonnes and tonnes of lighting equipment is disposed of each year that is perfectly functional, and that needs to be addressed,” he says. “The industry isn’t keen to re-use equipment. Electrical contractors are quite happy to rip out fittings and don’t want to take the care necessary for fittings to be re-used. And trying to source spare parts from manufacturers is near-impossible – they don’t want to repair their equipment.”

Whole-life design

Ian Howard, of Lighting Force, believes that the re-use of fittings is the only viable option for the future and recently wrote a letter to Lighting about his idea to create a company focusing on the re-use of luminaires.

“Cradle2Cradle is an idea for a business that would enable designers to take responsibility for fittings from the design stage through to the fitting being disposed of. Designers need to be thinking about the service life of the fittings they use and what they intend the client to do with those fittings after they have finished with them,” he says.

While re-use is something that needs to be encouraged, as things stand there is no mechanism whereby re-use can be recorded and so no way it can be counted towards WEEE targets. According to Magog, although the issue of recording is not mentioned specifically in the recast of the directive, it will have to be addressed so that re-use is counted towards the UK’s targets. However, he concedes the re-use of luminaires at present is minimal and the issue of luminaires being sold for scrap prohibits the recording of such data.

“There is no appropriate mechanism to record this type of recycling yet. The data simply isn’t being gathered,” he says. “The government is going to have to find the best way of capturing that data and I would expect this to be part of the proposals for the legislation that will be put out to consultation in autumn.”

Burden of responsibility

Another area Magog believes needs to be addressed is the burden of responsibility this type of legislation places on producers. “Somewhere the polluter has gotten mixed up with producer, which isn’t right,” he says. “Perhaps the solution is to put more pressure on the end-user and the disposer to dispose of WEEE correctly, but there is no way for the producer to make an electrical contractor dispose of it in a recorded manner.”

John Bullock of GreenSpec disagrees and sees a positive impetus in the directive insofar that it has brought manufacturers to the table regarding recycling. “It has forced manufacturers to consider how we can tackle this,” he says. “Re-use is a new way of thinking. It puts the onus back on the manufacturer to think much more broadly than putting a light fitting into a box and selling it. They need to think in terms of the design and about what happens when the end-user is finished with the product.”

Recycling rates for lamps

Lamp Recycling Rates

The changes to the WEEE Directive present an aggressive new target for the UK, despite the fact we are used to exceeding the present targets comfortably. Taking lamps as an example, in 2010, which is the last full year for which data is available, 16,000 tonnes of gas discharge lamps were put on the market in the UK, of which approximately 6,000 tonnes were recycled in the same year. “This is the equivalent of 37 per cent, which is not too far off the 45 per cent target, within the lamps area; we’re within jumping distance of the goal,” says Recolight’s Nigel Harvey.

While the recycling of lamps is doing well, recycling of luminaires falls quite far behind. A significant amount of luminaires are sold for scrap metal and go unrecorded. “The recycling rate for business WEEE is higher for lamps than any other electrical equipment, so the industry is already doing very well,” says Lumicom’s Ernest Magog. “But there are different challenges for fittings, which to a large extent are very recyclable. They may well be made from aluminium, meaning they can disappear very easily into the waste stream without being properly recorded.”

*Rates show recycling rate as a percentage of POM for the same year. Figures include household and non-household lamps and are an approximation of rates in a given year.

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