Making light work of waste

Effective waste management is now an integral part of refurbishment, refit and maintenance contracts; an area where building services engineers play a key role. Ernest Magog of Lumicom explains how to make light work of end-of-life lighting products

With sustainability high on the agenda for virtually all companies and public sector organisations, waste management is a vital element in reducing the overall environmental impact of construction projects. And in many cases, of course, this is reinforced by legislation such as the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive.

Consequently, anyone involved in managing all or part of a project that generates waste needs to be up to speed with regulations and best practice. In the case of larger projects (value > £300,000) a Site Waste Management Plan (SWMP) is compulsory but it actually makes sense to apply the same principles to every project.

The focus of this article, though, is on lighting products, not least because these can be the most challenging waste products to deal with. This is because each luminaire is made of various components that need to be dealt with separately, which has implications for waste management on site.

Getting to grips with the WEEE Directive, therefore, is important – but when planned properly it’s also pretty straightforward and can be divided into several key steps.

Since the Directive was introduced thousands of lighting products have been diverted from landfill and recycled and, along the way, the organisations involved have learnt some important lessons. These lessons have served to fine-tune the processes and are now also being applied to new waste streams covered by the WEEE Directive, such as street lanterns and emergency lighting batteries.

Particularly valuable in the evolution of compliance schemes has been the feedback from users. This makes it clear that a well defined infrastructure that is easy to work with is very important, as ultimately this will save time and minimise hassle. It’s also useful if a compliance scheme has some in-built flexibility so the service can be tailored to the needs of each project – especially larger projects.

It has also become apparent that there is greater complexity in projects where luminaires from a number of different manufacturers are used. If all of those manufacturers are members of the same compliance scheme there’s no problem because there is still a single point of contact. However, if they are members of different schemes, then each scheme may have to be dealt with separately, increasing the volume of paperwork, telephone calls, skips etc.

As a result, many specifiers are now thinking ahead and sourcing their luminaires from manufacturers that belong to the same scheme. In this way they address the needs of the end client by making disposal at the end of life more straightforward.


As noted earlier, in terms of the day-to-day management of luminaire recycling, there are a number of key steps and as long as these are addressed things should go smoothly.

The first step is to identify just who is responsible for disposal. The WEEE Directive divides waste into two main categories. There is historic waste, installed before 13 August 2005, and future waste, installed after that date. Future waste is marked with a crossed out wheelie bin to indicate that it cannot be consigned to the general landfill waste stream.

With historic waste, the producer of any replacement equipment is responsible for facilitating an infrastructure that will accept historic waste. In the case of future waste, it is the producer of the discarded waste that bears this responsibility. As indicated above, managing this is easier when dealing with compliance schemes that represent many manufacturers.

The next step is to separate the old fittings into separate waste streams as the lamps and any batteries from emergency lighting need to be disposed of separately. Discharge lamps are classified as hazardous waste, because of their mercury content, and need to be stored on site in compliance with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (CoSHH) regulations.

In a project where there are around 1000 luminaires being disposed of, the site will be eligible for a skip, which will be placed on site for 14 days free of charge – so scheduling of the project is important. For fewer luminaires – or if there is insufficient space – site operators are able to download a delivery note from and take this with the luminaires to the nearest collection point, so they are not charged for using the facility. The nearest collection point can be identified by entering the postcode on the search facility on the website.

Emergency lighting batteries

Similar attention to detail has been paid to the disposal of batteries used in emergency lighting products, which have been covered under waste disposal regulations since January 2010. Again, an accredited recycling infrastructure has been put in place to help contractors dispose of the batteries that are removed during maintenance and refurbishment projects.

It is also hoped that by developing such a scheme the industry will ensure that industrial nickel cadmium (NiCd) are not included in a plan to ban these batteries for general use. As David Wright, Chairman of the Industry Committee on Emergency Lighting (ICEL) warns: “Whilst in theory there are alternatives to NiCd rechargeable batteries, they are not as reliable or suitable for life safety equipment such as emergency lighting and will ultimately require a recycling infrastructure anyway”.

Street lanterns

The learning curve encountered for luminaires has also been useful in developing a scheme for the disposal of street lanterns. Before the scheme was rolled out extensive field trials were carried out in conjunction with the Association of Signals, Lighting and other highway Electrical Contractors (ASLEC) to establish the most efficient methodology. These trials explored a number of options for establishing an efficient, cost-effective and user-friendly disposal infrastructure for street lanterns. As such, this preparatory work has helped to establish the necessary flexibility to address all requirements, while maximising the level of recycling.

The scheme is also tailored to meet the needs of different types of projects. For the disposal of relatively small numbers of lanterns – in the order of a few hundred a month – hessian bags will be supplied to street lighting depots and these will then be collected on a ‘milk round’ basis. For greater quantities, as might be encountered in a PFI project for example, there will be differing arrangements.

Investigations also highlighted the importance of training, based on the experience of other European countries. Consequently, ASLEC has agreed to train staff where appropriate.

Paper trail

Any activities related to legislative compliance need to include a comprehensive audit trail to prove that appropriate procedures have been followed. Even when the ultimate responsibility lies elsewhere there is still an onus on the building operator and/or project manager to ensure that accredited waste contractors have been used. Thus, any company acting on behalf of the compliance scheme should issue a receipt to the disposer. Ultimately this information will be submitted to the Environment Agency by the compliance scheme.

Taking tighter control of waste is clearly a very important issue that makes a positive contribution to reduced environmental impact and carbon footprint. Putting it into practice effectively is largely a matter of good forward planning, understanding the waste that will have to be dealt with and teaming up with the most appropriate compliance scheme.

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