Looking for that lightbulb moment

Neil Grundon, deputy chairman of Grundon Waste Management, calls for British manufacturers to lead a switch to minimum recycled content in lighting

At the risk of making a very obvious pun (there will undoubtedly be more to come), I would like to shine a spotlight on recycling within the lighting sector.

I’m seeing plenty of well-meaning industry organisations and ongoing debates around the circular economy and the move towards a more sustainable lighting industry. Of course, these are to be applauded.

Topics on the table include the longevity of LEDs, the production of good-quality secondary raw materials to compete more effectively on price with virgin materials, improved light management, and enhanced product designs.

There is no doubt great strides are being taken, but what I want to see is more action from the front end, by which I mean the lighting manufacturers.

Instead of thinking about using less materials or which parts of a luminaire can (or can’t) be recycled – I believe a strong focus on incorporating a minimum recycled content within new luminaires would be a game changer. Even better, I’d like to see British manufacturers spearheading that drive.

In a global lighting sector dominated by giants such as Philips (Signify) and Osram, there must be room for more niche players to break the mould and do something differently. It should be about experimenting, thinking outside the box and being innovative.

While I don’t believe it should be from the top down (ie government legislation) there is little doubt that the introduction of the new plastic packaging tax has made the packaging industry sit up and take notice.

The new tax, to be implemented in April 2022, will insist that any plastic packaging produced in, or imported into the UK, must contain at least 30% recycled waste if it is to avoid being taxed.

I’m not suggesting at this stage there should be similar legislation imposed on the lighting sector, but I do think it is incumbent for manufacturers to challenge current manufacturing methods.

I’m not expecting miracles, if they could produce a luminaire with 2% recycled content, that must be better than none.

It would also help to address the issue around ROI. We know at the moment it can be a hard sell to persuade people to look beyond price comparisons and go for the ‘greener’ product rather than the cheaper one.

Surely if, as a procurement director, you were given the option of buying new lighting containing recycled content, you would welcome the opportunity to both add to your own environmental credentials and demonstrate you are helping to save the planet.

Talking of which, bravo to Nigel Harvey, CEO of WEEE compliance scheme Recolight who, in supporting the environmental cause went as far as getting arrested (for the second time), as part of the climate change protests in London recently. Perhaps it needs more of us to stand up and be counted.

Both Recolight and its European counterpart EucoLight (the European association of collection and recycling organisations for WEEE lamps and lighting), fly the flag for WEEE collection and recycling.

They do a great job, but like many large organisations, I believe they are inevitably slowed down by bureaucracy and the sheer number and breadth of members. Wouldn’t it be illuminating (!) if a British manufacturer could break through all those layers and find a solution which embraced the use of recycled materials.

With this in mind, I also think the recycling industry has something to contribute to these discussion – as experts in our field we know we can give manufacturers the materials they need to use to achieve that goal – we just need someone brave enough to put their hand up and be prepared to try something different.

And don’t forget, it’s our Energy from Waste facilities that provide the electricity to power those very lights – just one very practical example of the circular economy working at its best.