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Seeing the Light

19 February 2010

Some retailers, producers and recyclers have been refining their ‘Take Back’ and recycling schemes to make more efficient and effective use of WEEE goods from consumers and businesses. Among the latest schemes is New Lamps for Old. Jane Fenwick reports

IT IS SEVEN YEARS THIS MONTH since the the WEEE – Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment – Directive became European law in February 2003. It is more than two years since the WEEE Regulations were implemented in the UK in July 2007.
Since then producers and waste recyclers have been working to introduced systems and processes to effectively, efficiently and sustainably recycle or reuse waste electronic and electrical products ranging from fridges and freezers to mobile phones and TVs. Defra has estimated that up to three million domestic refrigeration (fridges, fridge-freezers and freezers) units are disposed of in the UK each year and around a further half million commercial units are also replaced annually.
ICER (Industry Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling) has estimated that 1.8m tonnes of WEEE arises in the UK each year, of which 915,000 tonnes some from domestic users with large household appliances such as fridges and washing machines accounting for about 80 percent of this, with the balance arising from offices, shops, businesses and other nonhousehold sources.
The UK’s hazardous WEEE must be recycled in the UK and not sent outside the OECD to developing countries, particularly in Africa, where unsafe dsimantling of equipment puts human health and the environment at risk. Nevertheless organised crime has gained a foothold in the WEEE market, and last year Environment Agency officials and police found 500 containers on a farm in Upminster and an industrial site in Rainham, Essex filled with used computers, computer monitors, refrigerators and other assorted electrical waste ready to be exported to Africa to be stripped for raw materials.
Among the leading recyclers in the UK is the logistics group, Wincanton, which built the first dedicated WEEE treatment plant in the UK at Billingham (see below). It processes units received from local authorities and retailer/producer ‘take back’ schemes. Among its clients is Weeeco, an organisation founded to enable public and private sector organisations to fulfil their responsibility for the long term with WEEE policies that are environmentally sustainable, socially responsible and cost effective.
At the end of last year, Weeeco struck up a partnership with IKEA and Megaman for the recyling of compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) called ‘New Lamps for Old’. All discharge lamps (flourescent, sodium, metal hallide, mercury vapour) are all covered by the WEEE Directive and they have to be disposed of through a certified compliance scheme.
Megaman (UK) Ltd is one of the UK’s leading producers of energy saving lighting products. In 2008, it undertook an internal audit of its producer compliance systems and established that it could make significant improvements to its processes. Weeeco’s recommendations were implemented and Megaman and Weeeco set up ‘WEEE Lite’ to provide a compliant and effective recycling offer business operating in the B2C market.
All the CFL lamps sold in IKEA are supplied by Magaman. Weeeco was invited to pilot a scheme at IKEA’s Gateshead store to assess their current methods and devise systems to improve environmental performance and reduce costs of WEEE disposal. As a result of the pilot scheme’s findings and suggested improvements to IKEA’s collection and recycling process, The ‘New Lamps for Old’ programme was launched. Among the key findings of this pilot was that as many as 65 percent of the lamps returned to stores such as IKEA and B&Q are still functional. Often customers had bought bulbs with bayonet rather than screw fittings, or vice versa, or the wrong wattage and returned or exchanged them.  All returned lamps used to be sent for recycling at some cost to the retailer and producer.
Following this pilot, Weeeco Retail was formed which collects and tests returned lamps. Under the scheme, functional lamps are given to charities and housing associations for distribution to householders who would not necessarily be able to afford to convert from incandescent to low energy lighting.
The scheme is also applied to light fittings that are returned to stores. Fluorescent lamps and plugs are removed for re-use or recycling and copper cable is also stripped out for recycling. Similarly, functional household appliances returned to the stores are passed on to local social enterprises that then have the opportunity to place these back into the market place as refurbished items.
This ‘New Lamps for Old’ scheme now has many more retailers signing up to the scheme and Weeeco is working with several IKEA stores across the UK to facilitate collection and recycling of its waste electrical products. It has also paid off for Megaman because in 2009 it benefitted from an 80 percent reduction in its compliance costs.
IKEA’s Charlie Brown, who is based at the Milton Keynes store, explains: “IKEA has a strong commitment to sustainability and all of our stores have schemes for the recovery of batteries, low energy light bulbs and other WEEE. Following a number of duty of care visits to the sites of other retailers, we selected Weeeco as our WEEEcompliance partner. They have proved themselves to be very professional and responsive to our needs – and the online management system is very easy to use.”
As well as managing the recovery and re-use or recycling of all types of WEEE at IKEA stores, Weeeco has also been involved in advising on the best ways of managing WEEE on site while it is awaiting collection. Each IKEA store has its own environmental specialist and Weeeco works with these people to facilitate safe storage that minimises the risk of damage to re-usable items, as well as helping with appropriate signage.
According to Weeeco’s Compliance Director, Vincent Eckerman, “It is only when you look and scrutinise closely what we do with our waste resources do you see the real opportunity for reuse as a principle. It would seem we all missed the fact that perfectly good lamps were going for recovery when a more environmentally sound solution could be put in place,” he concluded.

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