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Meet IIIEE Researcher Thomas Lindhqvist

Thomas Lindhqvist
Photo: IIIEE researcher Thomas Lindhqvist

Policy instruments and business models for closed material loops:

Lamp collecting systems in need of improvement


A group of three IIIEE researchers are busy searching for good examples of how discarded lamps can be collected and the materials reused in new lamps.  “With authorities taking more responsibility consumers could contribute better, says IIIEE researcher Thomas Lindhqvist, explaining why we need to treat LEDs just as carefully as compact fluorescent lamps.

There is an ongoing global shift towards energy-efficient and sustainable lightning. In what way is your research project contributing to this?

“We are mapping today’s different systems for collecting and recycling discarded lamps, in Sweden and a few other Nordic and West European countries. In these countries, collecting and recycling lamps has been in practice for many years now, but we still know too little about results and effectiveness. Therefore we have started by mapping and evaluating the systems in use, searching for the best practices.

In the end, we aim to be able to serve authorities and various stakeholders with proven effective models that help consumers choose and handle energy-efficient and sustainable lighting in the best way possible. With a final aim of closing the material loops.

It has also been interesting to note the keen interest in our research from developing countries, most of which do not currently have systems in place, but recognise the importance and urgency of doing so and are looking to established systems for best practices and examples for their own system designs.”

But are we not good enough at collecting lamps in Sweden today?

“The answer is that we don’t know. We don’t have reliable data, neither in Sweden nor for the EU, so this is where we have to start. Generally, Swedes are willing to collect their discarded lamps, but doing it correctly is still quite complicated for a private person. It requires both knowledge (for instance that a lamp is not to be recycled as glass) and motivation and sometimes even a car, since you often only can leave your lamps at the larger recycling units. So we are asking too much from the consumers. To change this, authorities need to show a stronger responsibility.

That said, the statistics that are available indicate that Sweden is doing better than most. Also, there have been innovative initiatives on the local level, for example “Samlaren” that are being put in supermarkets to collect lamps and other small electronics more conveniently from consumers and also policy changes like giving retailers increasing responsibility for take-back.”

Today, LED-lamps are being introduced – just as we had finally learned how to handle discarded compact fluorescent lamps. Do we need to do more homework?

“Not for now: LEDs should be collected in the same way as compact fluorescent lamps, also called CFLs. Technically, they do differ in many ways, for instance with LEDs not containing mercury, which is a great advantage. But on the other hand LEDs contain various rare earth elements that should be collected and recycled for many reasons; not only are they rare but they are also often extracted in ways that cause strong negative ecological and health effects. So these rare and potentially dangerous materials should not be diffused in nature, which is what we mean when we talk about ‘closed material loops’. Our ultimate but today very remote aim for lighting production is to be self-supporting with the materials that are already in use.

LEDs do present a challenge in that the rare earths are in smaller amounts than in CFLs, which has implications for the recycling process as LEDs come to dominate the waste in the next few decades. Also, we are starting to see more and more integrated LED lighting. If this trend continues, then there may be a need to rethink how we collect those LEDs. By contrast, another opportunity for future LEDs could be more modular design, which could increase the life of certain components while recycling others.”

What do you expect for the coming five to ten years?

“We will see a fast development for LEDs, meaning that tomorrow’s lamps may require fewer or other materials than today’s, but we may also see more complex and integrated products. On the other hand, a technological shift is also an opportunity to design for end-of-life management and closing material loops. Very much can happen in a few years. When it comes to raising collection percentage and closing material loops, we need a more convenient system for the consumers. This is a task that I’d like to address to the authorities. I think we’ll see improved information, targeted towards different groups, but also a better infrastructure for collecting lamps."

Text and photo: Sara Bernstrup Nilsson


Learn more about this project

Policy instruments and business models for closed material loops

  • IIIEE researchers: Jessika Luth Richter, Thomas Lindhqvist, Naoko Tojo
  • Project time: 15 November 2013- 31 October 2015. Possible prolongation for 2016.
  • Budget: SEK 2 986 209
  • Funding agency: Swedish Energy Agency
  • Academic partners: University of Copenhagen, University of Southern Denmark, Helmholtz Institute Freiberg for Resource Technology

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