Why do companies recycle lamps and luminaires when they could reuse them? Pennie Varvarides takes a look at equipment reuse, the second R in the mantra ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ – and arguable the most important to sustainability

Recycling is now a firm part of all our lives, and there are schemes to recycle everything from tin cans to cars. But in the clamour to recycle, the other elements of the mantra ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ have been all but forgotten.

As technology advances, products last longer and consume less energy, but they are often replaced before the end of their service lives. Retailers and landlords will happily rip out perfectly serviceable fittings during a refit.

But why send those old products to the scrapheap if they have another 10 years life in them?

Ian Howard of Lighting Force has been wrestling with this conundrum and come up with an answer.

He is setting up a company focused on reusing luminaires. He wants to make a virtue of the fact that large retail chains change their image every five years, going through what he calls a ‘rebranding programme’.

During these periods, large numbers of light fittings are often torn out and dumped in the skip along with everything else.

‘My idea is to rescue these fittings from landfill and market them as a sustainable brand,’ says Howard.

He has enlisted a lamp maintenance company that will remove the luminaires, safely pack them away, refurbished, PAT tested and upgraded to the best current technology.

Lamps will be replaced as a matter of course and older control gear will be upgraded to an electronic version. These will then be sold to new users for around half the price of a new fitting.

Shake it up

Howard explains: ‘All we’re doing is using good old British ingenuity and shaking everything up.

Everything will be done in the UK, though we’ll probably have to buy the lamps from abroad – but that’s just the lamps.’

He adds: ‘It’s got to come from design. And good design is one thing the Brits are good at.’

To give peace of mind to customers who are, effectively, buying second-hand kit, Howard will guarantee the upgraded luminaires for five years, on the assumption that retailers will want to change their lighting systems in five years anyway.

Fittings can be rescued from landfill and marketed

Customers can extend the warranty period if they would like to use the fittings for longer than five years.

Howard says: ‘Because we’re partnering with a lamp maintenance company, we’re happy to take that risk. Part of the scheme is that we’re taking responsibility for these fittings.’

Items could be stored for months before they are used again, so they are always checked again before they are sent out. Howard believes these luminaires could even be re-reused – the second-hand fittings could be removed, upgraded again and put back into the system.

He says: ‘Anything being designed new now has an expected life of 15 years. After the five-year period, these can be reused again. There would be even better replacements available in five years’time.’

However, some experts in the field sound a note of caution. ‘Reuse is obviously a good thing in principle,’ says Ernest Magog, chief executive of the lighting industry’s luminaire recycling body Lumicom. ‘But there are cases where it doesn’t make environmental sense to encourage reuse.

‘As a general rule of thumb, lighting technology moves so fast that equipment that is over 10 years old is 50 per cent less efficient than today’s technology.

The main environmental cost of lighting is not the manufacture of the equipment, but the pollution caused by the production of electricity that it uses over its lifetime.

‘To obtain the best environmental benefit, we should encourage end users to keep their lighting equipment up to date and as efficient as possible.’

When green is not enough

Pennie Varvarides talks to lighting designer John Bullock about GreenSpec Light, a new sustainability accreditation service for lighting manufacturers