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Feature: Throwing light on the subject

Around 100 million light bulbs are discarded by UK companies each year. And while only 18 million will be recycled in 2005, getting into the lamp recycling industry appears to be an arduous task.

Mercury Recycling has opened its new Manchester-based plant which, when fully operational, will be able to process 40 million lamps a year.

Mercury Recycling managing director Bryan Neill says: “Getting into this business is a huge ordeal. It’s very expensive and to set up the plant alone, it took us 18 months from the identification of the building to full production.”

With fluorescent tubes listed under the Hazardous Waste Regulations from July this year, it meant that gaining a licence was another rigorous process.

Neill added: “The Environment Agency has supervised and inspected all the way through and the application was 1,100 pages long. We had to pay a substantial fee for the Prevention of Pollution Control licence, and when you consider we had to pay two highly skilled professionals for six months to work on it, the costs are mounting up before we even consider the machinery.”

Mercury Recycling was formed in December 1995 and acquired Symester Engineering in December 2003. The fruits of this unification can be seen with the first fully operational 5000R Recycler due to be joined by its twin at the end of the year.

Neill continued: “We used five different manufacturers, all UK-based to plan and build our machine. These worked with our own engineers who have over 60 years’ experience. It cost us £750,000, but the time approval, labour and intelligence are hard to replicate.”

With regulations providing a huge marketplace, the new machines will ensure that everything is recycled. The glass itself will be used for various individual processes, including aggregates and Cleanaway will take a significant quantity for incineration purposes.

As for the potentially hazardous mercury, this will be distilled and then resold, mainly for manufacturing in new lamps. Sodium, plastics and metals will all be used for various purposes.

Being able to cover every single UK postcode gives the company great scope to reach all possible clients from businesses to local authorities. But because of the challenges of getting to this stage, Neill doesn’t believe there will be many more players entering the market.

“I can’t see anyone else coming in. It’s not easy and so expensive. There are three or four companies which can do it and the work will be spread between us.”

Even without being fully operational, Mercury Recycling will still process around 10 million of the 18 million lights recycled in the UK in 2005.

With 100 million lamps bought and disposed of in the UK each year, the size of the market is underlined by the fact that fluorescent tubes now fall under the Hazard Waste Regulations so most landfill sites can no longer take them.

In fact, the number has dropped from 250 to just
two sites. And with household bulbs due to be included in the directive, there is a huge amount of scope for
the few companies capable of dealing with mercury-bearing waste.

Mercury Recycling chief executive Simon Lebor says: “Mercury in landfill will leach. So irrespective of the WEEE Directive, the industry will grow because peopl

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