Where do all the lamps go?

One question I heard asked many times, and have asked myself, is where do lamps go after I have brought them for collection?  In Sweden (and currently also Norway and Denmark), the answer is Nordic Recycling in Hovmantorp. Household collection from apartments and other collection sites is aggregated in the same yellow bins found at the recycling centers and transported to Hovmantorp. This is organised and paid for by the producer responsibility organisations (for example, El Kretsen in Sweden).

Yellow bins for lamps at the recycling centers

The yellow bins arrive in Hovmantorp





MRT recycling technology

Lamps are loaded into the recycling machine

Unlike other waste fractions, lamps are special with many of them containing small amounts of mercury that require a special recycling process. Nordic Recycling uses an oxidation process where the lamps are first crushed and then washed.  Washing involves tumbling in a fluid with chemicals, in a closed process that lowers the risk of exposure and emissions. During the washing, the mercury (Hg) in converted into an Hg-salt by the chemicals in the liquid. Cleaned glass, metals and other materials free from mercury are further separated.

The end results are fractions of glass, plastic, metals, and mercury/phosphor powder

The end results are fractions of glass, plastic, metals, and mercury/phosphor powder








Theoretically all the fractions can be recycled further, but in reality the quality of the material and market for it determine the what happens to the material. The metal from this process is further recycled, while the plastic is incinerated (energy recovery).  The glass fractions can theoretically be recycled, but in Sweden this is made more difficult by the need to transport the heavy fraction to the glass recyclers and the fact that these recyclers already have plenty of secondary material supply. So in actuality, the glass fraction is used as construction material in landfill cover. In Finland, the glass fraction is used to make foam glass, an interesting construction material, and now this option is being investigated in Sweden as well.

recycled fractions

source: Richter, 2015

Perhaps most interesting these days is the use of the phosphor powder fraction. While in the past this fraction was landfilled as hazardous waste, now this fraction is sent to Solvay-Rhodia in France for further processing and recycling the rare earth content. More about this in the next post!

About JL Richter

I am currently researching about policy instruments for energy efficient lighting products and how questions related to design, disposal, collection, labels and procurement can be addressed in a synergistic way. https://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=104716222&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile_pic
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