The circle of light

The circle of light

Leighton James of TRILUX discusses how the growing effects of anthropogenic climate change and increasing concerns over natural resource scarcity have pushed the Circular Economy agenda to the forefront.

Products that do not generate waste and do not themselves become waste are ideal for a circular economy. With sustainable management of material flows, companies can tackle global challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, waste, and pollution. The key to success starts with product design and ends with an industry-wide collaboration to keep products useable for the most time. 

Here, TRILUX UK breaks down the generic 'circular economy' term and outlines viable approaches such as Reuse, Refurbish or Recycle, which the industry can take.

The 19th of May 2022 was the UK's Overshoot Day. Overshoot Day marks when humanity's demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what the earth can generate in that year. It is clear that we are already living on borrowed resources.

The time to act is now; we as a construction community need to start behaving more responsibly. 

By now, you will have encountered the terms linear and circular economy. We need to transition from the linear 'throwaway' model where we 'take-make-waste' and embrace the circular economy 'R' strategies like, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products.

In the lighting industry, this was a departure from tradition but has triggered new manufacturing and business models providing a resilient system that is good for business, people, and the environment, from the reduction in volatility in the price of raw materials to increased economic growth. 

Three main approaches to circular lighting 

Until recently, the circular economy in lighting was focused on recyclable parts. We have condensed the R strategies and identified three main courses of action a specifier can take to implement circularity in their projects. 

1. Reuse 

In some cases (where the luminaire body is intact), it is possible to reuse the existing luminaire, redesign, and retrofit it with LEDs and a new gear tray—retaining the main body and other usable parts - a perfect example of circular principles at play.

Additionally, this is one to consider with the impending 2023 Government regulation, which will see the phase-out of some fluorescent, compact fluorescent, and high-pressure sodium lamps. Businesses need to start thinking about upgrading or changing their lighting to ensure the safety and usability of their spaces, avoiding the mad rush to find dwindling replacements. 

In a recent office project in the iconic London Wall building, we redesigned and refurbished over 400 14W, 21W, and 26W T5 and TC-D fluorescent luminaires to incorporate LEDs and DALI gear trays. The point-for-point replacement delivered a 47% energy and cost-saving, equivalent to 6.6MT of CO2. Moreover, the Reuse project saved 1.3 tonnes of new material compared to installing new lights, reducing waste, and preserving virgin material.

2. Refurbish

Circularity has seen an implosion of new business models. None more so than the leasing model, ideal for a new build project. 

With this model, customers no longer buy lighting technology but pay a monthly rate (the manufacturer remains the owner) for a planned, installed, and maintained LED solution.

In conjunction with the sustainability advantages, after disassembling the products, a lighting expert decides whether they are suitable for further use or if they can be refurbished and updated with new components.

3. Recycle 

Our final R: recycling—something we are all used to at home. Recovering raw materials from end-of-life products has two additional advantages: recovery is often more efficient in energy and costs than new extraction, and recycled materials are usually obtained locally, reducing transportation-related carbon.

In 2021, the UK collection of waste B2B light fittings treated through the WEEE system was 2,581 tonnes, with 41,240 tonnes of B2B light fittings placed on the market. That gives a national collection rate of just 6.2% - still much room for improvement.

In the same year, Recolight's members achieved a collection rate that was 12% - so twice the national average. 

Through analysis of its value chain, we have reported decreasing waste volumes in production for years. In the UK, it is partnered with Recolight to manage the recycling of all luminaires. 

Designing in sustainability 

Reuse, Refurbish and Recycle are great end-of-life strategies. However, as manufacturers, we need to make them easier to implement. This starts at the design phase, from packaging to durability and disassembly. 

The lighting industry 

In November 2021, the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and the Society of Light and Lighting (SLL) launched TM66 - Creating a circular economy in the lighting industry. TM66 provides practical guidance and a methodology for assessing the effectiveness of products and projects to circularity.

Designing out waste  

We participated in the European Repro-light research (re-usable and re-configurable parts for sustainable LED-based lighting systems). The project investigated the modularisation of luminaires, and a smart production scheme, via a Life Cycle Assessment that quantifies the environmental impact over a product's entire life cycle (from production to use, through to end-of-life).

A natural continuation, in 2021, it spearheaded a consortium that launched the two-year SUMATRA project. Sumatra's objective is to design a modular architecture and intelligent production scheme for LED luminaires to make lighting technology fit for the circular economy. 

Here, we may finally have a definitive blueprint on how circularity can be achieved in lighting that is scientific and quantifiable. The group plans to share the findings, helping the lighting industry move towards a more sustainable and competitive future. 

Reduced packaging 

We started reducing packaging waste right from the product development stage. Packing options are reviewed on sustainability. Recyclability is essential in selecting materials and design. Furthermore, it has obliged all its suppliers to take back their packaging and has introduced a system to avoid unnecessary packaging and minimise the amount of material.

Design for durability 

Design for longevity is critical. The idea is to build better, durable products with longer life cycles. This includes making parts more accessible and easier to maintain, replace or upgrade.

Design for recycling 

We now ask ourselves; “How do we design luminaires so that components and raw materials can be efficiently recycled and returned to the material cycle?” Here, we focus on reducing the use of virgin materials and avoiding hazardous, critical, and precious substances.

Innovative material use

Manufacturers must champion material research and test environmentally friendly renewable materials as an alternative to classic plastic-based luminaires.

We have put this into practice. A good example is its Parelia PLA prototype. PLA is a synthetic polymer based on lactic acid obtained from corn starch in an environmentally friendly way, which is 100% biodegradable. Due to its properties, it is suitable for producing the luminaire body via 3-D printing. The result - is a naturally decomposable luminaire that does not add to electrical waste or adversely affect natural resources.

In summary, brilliant people are working hard to find solutions to tackle our planet's anthropogenic crisis. Adopting a circular approach in the lighting and construction industry is no longer a nice to have. In the future, collaboration, shared value, and adoption of disruptive and radical innovation will be vital to the success of circularity and drive the much-needed transformational change in lighting and the construction industry

Leighton James is Product and Marketing Director at Trilux

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