Spare parts: where the Circular Economy will fail

Much of the conversation that’s going on around the subject of the Circular Economy is focused on what happens when components are exhausted. Once the LEDs have reached the end of their practical life, or the driver electronics are exhausted, can the fixture be rejuvenated, or are we obliged to scrap the luminaire body as well? That discussion is well advanced and we are hopeful that a decent solution is being developed across the sector.

But there’s another scenario that we need to think about. Spare parts.

This is how it happens:

The clients are really happy with their new courtyard lighting, but that doesn’t stop one of them forgetting that the new wall lights are there and backing into one of them.

The impact, while not damaging to the client, is sufficient to spring the main body of the luminaire from the mounting plate. In the process, the diffuser globe hits the ground, thanks in the main to the plug-socket arrangement that ensures that the main body doesn’t dangle from the wiring; it simply disconnects and the glass globe plummets groundwards.

At first sight, that’s the only problem that we have. Replacement globes are readily available – not cheap, but available. Its only afterwards, when the electrician comes to replace the globe that the REAL damage is discovered. The main body is held in place by a pair of plastic lugs – a kind of bayonet-fix arrangement. The impact jarred the fixture body against the fixing lugs, sheering the lugs from the mounting plate – rendering the plate unusable. Can we get hold of a replacement mounting plate?

It turns out that the ‘replacement’ globe isn’t a replacement at all – its just a separately-available item. There are no ‘replacements’, and there certainly isn’t a replacement for the mounting plate.

The solution: buy a new fixture. Likely cost to client, around £300.00. Value of black plastic mounting plate . . . a handful of euros – if you could get hold of one.

The Italian manufacturer has a Sustainability Policy. In that policy, the manufacturer declares ‘Respect for the Environment’ and ‘recognises the importance to  … take all the appropriate and necessary measures to minimise the impact of its activities’. The company also ‘strives to mitigate and optimise its direct and indirect consumption of …  resources’.

Which – you would think – would likely include avoiding the waste generated in scrapping a brand new luminaire for the sake of supplying a small black plastic mounting plate.

I think it’s a typical example of Unintended Consequences’ . . .  again.

Its one thing to plan a company’s sustainability practices around known behaviour. That’s a (relatively) easy thing, but the real world is a bit more chaotic than we prefer to imagine. Unexpected failures can, and clearly do, happen to other parts of a luminaire than just glass shades.

If the Circular Economy is to be successful then lighting manufacturers need to mimic the spare parts availability of the motor industry, where every component remains available until such time as a model is no longer supported. The desire for a circular economy used-luminaire model has to be that a lighting fixture can be re-built beyond the first iteration of a fixture’s lifetime. And also ensure that all plastic componentry can be replaced to reflect the likely degradation of the material over time. That would certainly sort out the availability of my mounting plate.

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