We have written before about the issues with collecting small WEEE like lamps. So the question is, how are countries doing in the EU with collecting and recycling of lamps, particularly mercury containing gas discharge lamps? To find the answer, we had a look in the Eurostat WEEE statistics. First we should say that nearly everyone we have spoken with in this research has highlighted problems with reliable data, and have pointed out that Eurostat statistics can be misleading and erroneous. Accurate and useful data for measuring and comparing collection rates of WEEE, and lamps in particular, remains a significant challenge. However, the fact also remains that there is little other data available.
The Eurostat data is underpinned by agencies reporting at the member state level and their data is underpinned in turn by PROs, producers, and import/export statistics. However, the data may have been through several conversions before its final reporting. Producers are required in some countries to report based on amounts which are then converted into kilograms for reporting at the EU level, which in turn leaves room for error and inconsistency. Another challenge is lighting technology changing faster than the CN codes used for reporting, which explains why, according to Lighting Europe, LEDs can be classified under different CN codes. Additionally, as lifetimes of lamp products have extended, the three year average of put on market used specified by the WEEE Directive may not be the most relevant measure (it has been proposed that at least 6 years is a more accurate measure of the historic collection rate). While some of the data issues are being addressed, it still means it will be some time before there is consistent and reliable data.
So with those huge disclaimers aside, we can say that looking at what data there is still gives us some picture of what is happening in the EU with lamp collection. The figure below shows the top 10 performing European countries, as measured in kg per capita collection of gas discharge (mercury containing fluorescent) lamps.
Looking at this we see nothing too out of the ordinary (compared to regular WEEE collection that is). Small amounts are indicative of the light weight of lamps. Scandinavian countries are performing very well. However, there is something to remember, especially when it comes to lighting products. While these countries collect well even when calculated accounting for population, this way of measuring does not take into account the fact that in these Northern countries there are more lighting products put on the market and sold per capita as well (a fact anyone who has lived through a Scandinavian winter will find unsurprising). So does anything change when we account for the put on market lighting products?
The figure above shows the collection % for countries with market over 1000 tonnes based on 2010-2012 average collection % of gas discharge (mercury containing fluorescent) lamps compared to put on market 2007-2011 based on the Eurostat data (2014). Collection % from 3 years (2010-2012) were averaged to account for higher variability when looking at this product category and to identify the consistently high performers rather than high performers of a certain year only (which you find can be often the case with a small waste stream and particularly with smaller countries). As mentioned in the data issues, countries report a little differently, so in the case of Netherlands, the data is estimated based on 2012 (tonnes) from Eurostat put on market data and Huisman et al. (2012) estimates of per capita lamps put on market 2010. Note that GDL data in practice often contains LEDs and other light sources and can be deemed an estimate only.
Again we see Sweden on top, but the most noticeable is the changed position of Norway when taking into account the put on market data. On the one hand this could be telling us that the collection is indeed not as effective in Norway. It could also be telling us that Norway does something different with its put on market data than the other countries when it comes to gas discharge lamps. We have been discussing with stakeholders in Norway and the reason is still not clear. It also stresses the need to look at the collection systems beyond a mere statistic to make sense of what is really going on. It seems though, that most of the Scandinavian countries are doing well with collection, no matter how you count. To this end, it is worth looking into some of the design features of these systems (in the table below).
Again, it is surprising when comparing the systems that Norway’s collection is quite a bit lower despite many similarities in system design with the other countries. So while the message from the collection % alone would lead us to conclude that they need to improve their collection system, the comparison of the collection system leads of to conclude they may need to align their reporting system!
For more information about best practices in lamp collection in the Nordic countries, check out our newly published academic article!
Eurostat. (2014, April). Waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). Retrieved August 26, 2014, from http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/portal/page/portal/waste/key_waste_streams/waste_electrical_electronic_equipment_weee
Huisman, J., Van der Maesen, M., Eijsbouts, R. J. J., Wang, F., Baldé, C. P., & Wielenga, C. A. (2012). The Dutch WEEE Flows. United Nations University. Retrieved from http://www.ihdp.unu.edu/file/download/9654.pdf