HOW WE RECYCLE
The Recolight recycling process
Recolight takes on the responsibility of its producer members for ensuring there is an infrastructure for the collection of WEEE lamps and to finance the costs of efficient, reliable and environmentally sound solutions for Lamp recycling.
Working with recycling and logistic operators
- Our recycling and logistics operators are sourced to conform to the relevant statutory requirements of the Regulations and Standards.
- Our purchasing and tendering process specifies the criteria to which potential Operators will have to conform. We seek Operators with the highest quality standards and certification to the relevant parts of ISO 14001 assists the selection process.
- Regular audits are undertaken with appointed operators, which are comprehensive and comply with the requirements of the UK WEEE Regulations and any other regulations set out by relevant parties such as DEFRA or The Environment Agency. This is to make sure that the highest standards of recycling and practices are adhered to.
- We finance the costs of collection and recycling from Designated Collection Facilities – (DCFs) and Commercial Collection Points – (CCPs) as required by the Regulations.
The WEEE regulations set a target of 80% for reuse of materials recovered during lamp recycling – The Recolight recycling recovery rate is over 90%.
Recovery of lamp material
The principle materials recovered from waste gas discharge and LED lamps are :
- Aluminium and circuit boards
- Phosphor powders containing rare earths and mercury
The materials are used in a number of different ways.
- It is feasible to recover the lamp phosphor powders, particularly the triphosphor type, and re-use them to make new lamps.
- The mercury collected, when purified to the right level, may also be used to make new lamps or it may be used in other industrial processes.
- The crushed glass can be mixed with a new glass melt for a variety of applications, from furnace linings to making new lamps, though in this latter case the purity level of the recovered glass becomes very important.
LEDs currently represent less than 1% of the lamp waste stream. They are collected with other GDLs and go through the normal processing route where the recovery rate is 80%. This is also because, to many end users, they are indistinguishable from other lamps.
Current LED retrofit lamp recycling process
The Environment Agency (EA) has pragmatically taken the position that LEDs and GDLs can be co–collected, despite existing requirements that hazardous and non-hazardous waste should be separated.
Co-collection allows compliance schemes like Recolight to ensure the waste is collected so that, in the longer term, when the percentage of LED in the waste stream rises, we already have a culture of collection.
In principle, LEDs can be recycled with other WEEE as they do not contain mercury, and are therefore more similar in nature to other WEEE than to GDLs. But they should be treated as mercury bearing lamps where they are co-collected; as there is a risk they may have some mercury contamination. This is because breakages in general containers will cause some fugitive emissions.
This position is reinforced within the CENELEC waste lamp treatment standard. However, with the involvement of Recolight in the development of the standard, an additional provision was included. This states that LEDs can be treated through a separate process, if collected as a single LED-only load (and verified through the audit trail that confirms no mercury contamination). This allows the standard to be relevant now and also in the future when the level of LED waste lamps is expected to grow.
Challenges of recycling LEDs
The diversity of design and construction of LEDs presents additional challenges to their recycling. LEDs contain rare earths, but there is currently no methodology to recover these as they exist in such minute quantities.
Retrofit LED tubes can cause an issue for some lamp recycling equipment because they don’t break up in the same way as a normal tube.
They can be separated and manually dismantled like many luminaires, or they can be sent to a general WEEE processing plant. Due to their size, small retrofit LEDs can sometimes slip through a general WEEE shredder without being shredded.
There will be a time delay of up to 10 years in which to develop any specific treatment technology that may be required. Work is already underway.
Recycling luminaires with both traditional and LED sources
Today, LED Luminaires have almost zero presence in the waste stream. Dedicated recycling processes are not currently used by Recolight’s suppliers.
Most luminaires, regardless of the technology inside, are treated in the same way as most other most other non-hazardous general WEEE. This includes luminaires based around traditional lamp technologies such as fluorescent and High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps.
Assuming the luminaire is not suitable for refurbishment and re-use, the objective of treatment is to separate the device into its’ constituent materials (plastics, metals, etc).
The future of LED luminaire recycling
The convergence of lamps and luminaires into LED luminaires will mean one larger unit will be treated in the future.
Investment in new treatment technology must take careful note of these developments in the lighting market.
The rate for separately collected luminaires in the UK is currently very low compared to the lamp recycling rate.
Working with EucoLight to address the LED recycling challenge
Recolight is a founder member of EucoLight, the European Association for lighting WEEE compliance schemes. EucoLight are currently running a number of projects to seek solutions for this challenge. EucoLight brings together Europe’s leading WEEE schemes specialised in the lighting sector, and so is ideally placed to tackle this.