Tiny amounts of precious metals are used in electronic circuitry, and generally considered not to be cost-effective to recover.
But when you add all those tiny amounts together . . .
We asked Nigel Harvey, CEO of Recolight to comment.
The UN Report is absolutely right to raise this issue. Far too many waste electricals continue to go to landfill – or to be recycled inappropriately. And when those waste electricals (or WEEE) are inappropriately discarded it means that valuable resources are lost – and that hazardous chemicals enter landfill sites. Both problems need to be addressed.
The report does note that, at 42%, the WEEE recycling rate in Europe is the highest region investigated. And for the purposes of this data, that does include the UK. That is thanks to the WEEE directive – and in the UK, to the WEEE regulations. Those regulations place the responsibility for financing WEEE recycling on producers of new electricals. So we can probably give ourselves a small pat on the back, with some justification.
The lighting industry in particular has sought to go “above and beyond” the strict legal requirements of the WEEE directive, with not-for-profit WEEE schemes, such as Recolight, established by the industry. It has helped to ensure that, both in the UK, and in most European countries, there is a readily-available, free-of-charge, waste lamp collection service, ensuring recycling and keeping mercury out of landfill.
But that can be no excuse for resting on our laurels. Still, in the lighting Industry, some producers contractually choose to pass all responsibility for recycling on to their customers. Whilst the regulations currently allow them to do this, it inevitably results in a lower recycling rate: The best way to encourage businesses to recycle correctly is to provide them with a service that is free at the point of need.
As more circular economy based business models gain traction in lighting, we are likely to see more lighting producers taking a greater interest in their products at end of life. As products become more repairable, and upgradable, and with replaceable light sources (because regulations and standards will start to require it), so there will be commercial opportunities in extending the lifetime of products beyond first use.
The lighting industry has, through the shift to LED, made a significant contribution in tackling greenhouse gas emissions. But that is now a given, and we need to do more. The next step is to take a circular economy approach to what we do – and where that is not possible, to make sure our products are always properly recycled.
Thanks to Newbury Electronics for the use of the banner image