Recycling LEDs just got easier – here’s why

Changes to the rules on recycling are set to make it easier to recycle LED luminaires properly, and protect manufacturers from being overcharged. 

New guidelines from the Environment Agency, published in December, state that all LED luminaires now belong in the ‘lighting equipment’ recycling category. Previously, they were lumped in with 'lamps and light sources', a category that includes hazardous gas discharge lamps.

‘It will now be much easier for people on sites where LED lighting products are being removed to classify the waste correctly,’ said Simon Cook from luminaire recycling compliance scheme Lumicom.

With fewer items in the category for hazardous waste, there is also less scope for confusion and overpayment, a problem that has affected lighting manufacturers in the past.

Before, when the category for lamps and light sources included both gas discharge lamps and LEDs, recycling schemes had to treat the LEDs as a separate, non-hazardous item within the category.

According to Cook, the old system made it too easy for lighting equipment to be wrongly labelled as hazardous, incurring unnecessarily high recycling bills.

‘Although legislation stated clearly that it didn’t have to be that way, a lot of the recycling schemes didn’t want to get involved in splitting the hazardous from the non-hazardous waste in the 'lamps and light sources' category, so they would lump it all together and charge the fee for hazardous waste,’ Cook said.

Under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive, producers of lighting equipment have to report the weight of all the luminaires they place on the market to the recycling authorities.

Now, the only luminaires that don’t go straight into the category for lighting equipment are those with user-replaceable LED modules. The weight of the LED light source has to be reported in the lamps and light sources category, while the weight of luminaire itself goes into the lighting equipment category.

Nigel Harvey, chief executive of WEEE compliance scheme Recolight, which specialises in helping manufacturers recycle lamps and luminaires, said: ‘This approach makes sense, and applies to LED luminaires the same logic used where luminaires are supplied containing fluorescent lamps. The weight of the fluorescent lamps and luminaire are reported separately.’

The new WEEE categorisation guidelines cover all commercial luminaires. Household luminaires are still exempt from WEEE recycling requirements, except for fittings with user-replaceable light sources that have to be reported in category 13.

Components for LED luminaires are also exempt, including LED parts supplied to OEMs.

Luminaires that can be used by both businesses and households could face new recycling demands in the near future. Nigel Harvey said: ‘There will likely be changes when "dual use" guidance is available in 2015.'

 

Video: Key players in the lighting business discuss progress and challenges of luminaire and lamp recycling at Lux's latest roundtable forum.