When involved in removing old light fittings, contractors need to be sure they don’t get caught out by the WEEE Directive

It might only seem like yesterday but in fact it’s nearly two years since the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment [WEEE] Directive was implemented. And we still find ourselves needing to clarify aspects of it in relation to lighting products.

The reason for that, in my view, is that this is actually quite a complex piece of legislation, with great chunks that are cast in plasticine rather than stone. By this I mean that there is quite a lot of apparent flexibility in the way certain responsibilities can be interpreted.

As a result, a key role of not-for-profit compliance schemes like Lumicom is to help people at the sharp end understand their obligations, as well as facilitating waste disposal in line with the law.

As far as electrical contractors are concerned, there are a number of factors to be aware of when it comes to end-of-life light fittings. The good news is that none of these are likely to cost you any money, whereas not being aware of them could prove expensive under certain circumstances.

The WEEE Directive is only likely to kick in if you are involved in replacing electrical products.

In this context, there are two types of waste – historic and future. Historic waste, installed before 13 August 2005, is the responsibility of the maker of the replacement equipment. If there is no replacement equipment, as in a demolition project, it’s down to the end-user.

With future waste, installed after 13 August 2005, the responsibility lies with the original manufacturer of the products that are being disposed of – and this is true for demolition as well.

All of which boils down to lighting manufacturers bearing the cost of disposal in the majority of cases. Most of them will do this through a compliance scheme such as Lumicom, which only deals with the luminaires, not lamps and other components.

This raises another point. Because fluorescent, metal halide and sodium discharge lamps contain mercury and are classified as hazardous waste, it is essential lamps are separated from luminaire bodies before disposal.

The same is true of batteries in self-contained emergency luminaires and power factor correction (liquid-filled) capacitors.

Contractors should clarify responsibilities with the main contractor. You need to be clear who is responsible not just for waste segregation but also for storage prior to collection

This is because these types of waste need to be fed into different waste streams. They require special treatment, while old luminaires are usually shredded and used for remanufacture (often for new light fittings).

Failing to segregate the waste properly could result in the whole consignment being contaminated, so that it would all have to be treated as hazardous waste. Not only would this result in much higher disposal costs, it could also leave the responsible firm open to prosecution under hazardous waste laws.

In some cases, the waste contractor will be prepared to carry out the segregation itself, but very often this will have to be done by the responsible contractor prior to collection. I recommend to any electrical contractor that they clarify responsibilities with the main contractor, which itself ought to be running a site-wide waste management plan (SWMP) that you need to fit into.

To that end you need to be clear who is responsible not just for waste segregation but also for storage prior to collection.

The hazardous elements fall within the remit of the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (CoSHH) regulations while on site and need to be in appropriate storage containers with clear warning signs.

Similarly, it is worth taking the time to make the end client aware of all this. For example, unless it’s a very large project with thousands of luminaires, it will probably be necessary to transport the waste to special ‘bulking-up’ points for collection.

This means you could incur extra transport costs, so these need to be reflected in the price quoted for the project from the outset, rather than getting into wrangles half way through.

Some clued-up end clients may also have concerns about future disposal. This could be a major headache for them if luminaires are sourced from a range of manufacturers, bearing in mind these manufacturers will be responsible for disposal of future waste.

I would suggest the most sensible and cost-effective option is to source all fittings from the project from makers that are members of one compliance scheme. That way, there will be just one point of responsibility when the time comes to dispose of the old luminaires.

This article was originally published in EMC February 2009 as Forget-WEEE-not