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Look on the bright side

Nigel Harvey and I had just been involved in a roundtable discussion on light bulb recycling when this interview took place, organised by MRW’s sister magazine Lighting. As chief executive of recycling compliance scheme Recolight, he straddles both the lighting and recycling industries. And as such he was as comfortable in the discussion talking about lamps (light bulbs), CFLs (compact florescent lamps or energy saving light bulbs as the rest of us know them) and also the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive, civic amenity sites and recycling containers.

“Recolight is a producer compliance scheme,” he says, “set up under the UK’s WEEE regulations to fulfil the obligations and objectives of the WEEE regulations to keep our members compliant. But much than that, to really try to maximise the recycling of florescent tubes and energy saving light bulbs.

“Our members comprise a wide range of companies but all drawn from the lighting sector. We specifically focus on the recycling of florescent tubes and energy saving light bulbs, so our members include some of the biggest names in lamp manufacture and indeed on our board are Philips, General Electric, Havells Sylvania and Osram.”

As well as working in the lighting sector, Recolight has a strategic partnership with WEEE and batteries compliance scheme ERP.

“When the batteries regulations came in, we wanted to give the 1,000 or so free of charge collection points that we already have set up across the UK for business collection of lamps, access to battery collections as well.

“So working with ERP meant that we could offer those collection points the opportunity to collect an extra waste. But by using the same organisation to collect both, we get an extra waste stream with no increase in carbon footprint.”

Recolight also has a partnership with supermarket Sainsbury’s to help the public recycle light bulbs and batteries and it is a scheme he is keen to roll out with other retailers.

We need to set the infrastructure up now to ensure that when significant quantities of waste start to come back in two or three years time that the recycling culture is already in place to cope with energy saving light bulbs

“We are delighted with the work we are doing with Sainsbury’s. We have got a specifically designed container that will collect both energy saving light bulbs, and batteries as well. That container has now been rolled out at 200 of Sainsbury’s larger stores right across the UK with the objective of giving consumers an additional way to recycle energy saving light bulbs over and above going to the 1,100 or so household waste recycling centres.

“We think this is important not because there is going to be a huge number of waste CFLs coming back in the short-term, but because we need to set the infrastructure up now to ensure that when significant quantities of waste start to come back in two or three years time that the recycling culture is already in place to cope with energy saving light bulbs.”

Recolight has set itself a target of increasing this number of containers to 600 across the UK before the end of 2010. He says it is a “tough challenge” but he is confident Recolight will achieve this.

“Getting that sort of number out, which is over and above our legal obligation, is a way of ensuring that there really is an easy and simple way in which consumers can recycle their energy saving light bulbs.

“We are also quite keen to extend our network in business to business collections as well. We’ve already got 1,000 collection points and we really want to extend that to provide a service that offers free of charge collections to a wider range, particularly in the small- and medium-sized sector.”

The European Union is currently in the middle of a process to amend, or re-cast in the technical jargon, the WEEE Directive and Harvey is largely supportive of some of the work being done there.

“We are concerned about one element, which is that he [the rapporteur in the European Parliament for the re-cast Karl-Heinz Florenz] proposes that there should be a specific target for collection just for lamps. That’s great, and is in fact, something we have been lobbying for.

“However, the basis of the need for the target, he says, is about health and safety. We actually don’t think that is the case. Lamps are safe. They are in virtually every building in the country.

“But instead, the need for a specific target is more about market dynamics. The lamps that we are recycling today are those that were put on the market six years ago. But the recycling targets proposed in the re-cast are based on two or three years average of the previous put on the market figures.

“There has been a huge increase in sales from six years ago to now.  So, if we are only recycling the lamps that were sold six years ago, there is no way we have enough available to hit a significant target.

Specific targets are right for the lamp industry, but it has to be one that takes into account the dynamics of a high growth market

“Specific targets are right for the lamp industry, but it has to be one that takes into account the dynamics of a high growth market.”

He thinks that overall the regulations in the UK are working well. But he would like to see a change to regulation 9.2 and how it is applied.

“Regulation 9.2 allows producers to transfer their obligation to recycle onto business end users. That is all well and good where we are talking about a major piece of capital equipment as there is a very direct relationship between the producer and the user. But it is not so good in fast-moving products where there is a longer supply chain. There is not a clear link between the producer and the end-user.

“Particularly in the case of lamps that get stored in hotels for example or office buildings. An office building can be sold several times while the lamp is being used. So where does the liability then rest for the recycling of that one lamp? So, we think it doesn’t work for products such as lamps and we would like to see that changed.”

In many ways, Recolight is preparing for the brighter days ahead when the large volumes of energy saving light bulbs come to the end of their lives and are suitable for recycling. Nigel Harvey is making sure the recycling industry, the lighting sector and Recolight in particular, are ready. 

Nigel Harvey CV

Nigel has been in the compliance industry for over 20 years, starting out getting the CE mark applied to electrical items. This mark means that a product meets European safety requirements. He has worked for BSRI, SGS and Intertek. He joined Recolight in April 2009 as chief executive.

The best thing to happen in my career was…

It was joining Recolight. I’ve honestly been passionate about recycling and energy saving for many years. Doing something so close to my heart is great. It isn’t often you get a job opportunity that fulfils that.

The worst thing to happen in my career was…

This may not seem directly related, but something that really struck me was Kevin Mccloud doing a programme called Slumming It about India that showed people recycling there. It was a salutary lesson to see huge recycling efforts in Mumbai but also at huge human costs. People walking across and searching among huge mountains of waste was so awful to see. It made me even more aware that we cannot allow our waste to be exported unregulated or without enforced regulation.

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