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Figures released by the Environment Agency show the UK has achieved a year on year increase in lamp recycling rates since 2008, the first full year of the WEEE regulations. But at the same time, changes to the WEEE regulations mean recorded rates are likely to drop in 2014 and beyond. Nigel Harvey, chief executive of Recolight reviews the statistics and the consequences for stakeholders in the electrical industry

Figures released by the Environment Agency show the UK has achieved a year on year increase in lamp recycling rates since 2008, the first full year of the WEEE regulations. But at the same time, changes to the WEEE regulations mean that recorded rates are likely to drop in 2014 and beyond. Nigel Harvey, chief executive of Recolight reviews the statistics and the consequences for stakeholders in the electrical industry

The latest annual WEEE recycling data demonstrates the following growth in annual waste lamp recycling rates:

Table 1 – WEEE recycling rates of gas discharge lamps in the UK by a comparison of the tonnage of recycling recorded by all PCSs with the tonnage of all new gas discharge lamps declared as put on the market by all UK producers

This is impressive growth that will help considerably towards attaining the targets outlined within the recast WEEE Directive. This includes a national target for all WEEE categories of 45% by 2016 and 65% by 2019.

Electrical wholesalers have been important contributors to this success. We estimate some 25% of the waste lamps recycled in the UK are collected through wholesalers, many of which offer in-branch take back. Many other take back mechanisms also exist, with many end users often arranging their own direct collections. Recolight has over 2,300 waste lamp collection points at many wholesalers, large end users, local authority sites, and others.

As the UK’s leading lamp, LED and luminaire recycling scheme, Recolight has recycled more lamps, LEDs, and luminaires in total than all other WEEE schemes combined. Since 2007, the organisation has funded the recycling of over 200 million waste lamps, LEDs, and luminaires.

However, in the face of this success, with the recent incorporation of LED lamps and gas discharge lamps in the same WEEE category, Recolight forecast a negative impact on lamp recycling rates from 2014 onwards.

To explain this change, it is important to note that WEEE collection rate figures are based upon the waste lamps collected as a percentage of those ‘put on market’ Until 2014, LEDs put on market were not included in the calculations. However, with large numbers now being sold, but only a few being returned, it follows overall collection rates will naturally drop when we also count new LEDs supplied. It is important the government and the Commission take these changes into account when setting future WEEE target. Despite the predicted drop in rates, it is worthwhile emphasising that the inclusion of LED lamps is beneficial for the lighting industry as a whole. Including LED and gas discharge lamps in the same category helps to avoid an orphan lamp waste stream, making for a more sustainable recycling model.

The lighting industry has set a high benchmark for business WEEE recycling. Our sector has a higher business WEEE recycling rate than any other. According to 2013 Environment Agency figures, lamps accounted for just 3% of the tonnage of UK business electrical equipment placed on the market but this in-turn contributed to over 25% of the national business WEEE collected.

The European Commission is currently considering setting a specific target for mercury containing lamps. The target should take into consideration an adjustment for the inclusion of LED lamps in WEEE collection statistics. However, the expectation is that no matter how far targets are adjusted, the new targets will be challenging.

Lamp recycling has seen great success in the past few years, with recycling rates continuing to improve. However, there are challenges for the future, with the addition of new LED lamps driving the rate down. This will require the attention of all involved in the production and distribution of lamps, and LEDs to improve the rate anew.

The growth in Recolight and the lamp recycling rate has in part been due to the strong commitment of Recolight’s 130 Producer members. This includes: Philips, Osram, GE lighting and Havells-Sylvania as founder members. Their efforts will continue to be integral in making sure the lighting industry maintains the highest standards of WEEE compliance in the future.