February 9, 2023

Fighting Lighting Waste

Emilio is one of the brains behind Ström, a sustainable lighting design company he co-founded with his...

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Fighting Lighting Waste With Circular Economy Principles

Emilio is one of the brains behind Ström, a sustainable lighting design company he co-founded with his partner Anna. He is also one of the co-founders of Green Light Alliance, an organisation that strives for change in the lighting industry. 

Manufacturers and brands in the UK, along with the rest of the world, abide by deeply ingrained linear economy principles. In a linear economy, production leads to consumption, and consumption leads to waste. 

The effects of our linear economy can be felt far and wide. The government’s Net Zero goal has hit the headlines for its ambitious reforms and attempts to rewind some of the worst effects of this system. But what is the alternative? 

What Is a Circular Economy? 

The definition of a circular economy is ‘an economic system based on the reuse and regeneration of materials or products.’ It is a planet-centric design, meaning it promotes methodologies for designing products that do not damage the planet. 

I’ll use the humble light fitting as an example. 

Design Light Bulbs Without Waste and Pollution

If you ask a friend about their contribution to the planet, they might tell you about their recycling efforts. In the circular economy model, recycling is the last resort. 

Instead of putting the onus on individuals, we should incentivise manufacturers to invest in better designs, transparent product procurement chains, and sustainable materials. That way, individuals will automatically produce less waste. In this utopia, recycling is a thing of the past. 

In our current system, it is still a good idea to recycle light fittings when they've reached the end of their useful life. But it would be even better for the environment if manufacturers focused on creating long-lasting lights and bulbs that shine bright for years to come. 

Maintain Your Light Bulbs and Reduce WEEE Waste

One of the main principles of the circular economy is to maintain the products that you already have. By maintaining your light scheme, you are preserving the energy that has gone into creating it, right down to the energy expended on mining scheelite and wolframite to create the tungsten filament for the bulb that it uses . 

This principle only works if manufacturers follow the first rules of the circular economy model which are to maintain, re-use and repair’. Lighting designers create products that respond to aesthetic demands rather than pressing environmental concerns. Modern LED lights often have the LED built into the luminaire. These are far more difficult to maintain than old screw-fit, bayonet, and fluorescent lights. As a result, householders have to call a professional tradeswoman when they want to clean, repair, or replace their light bulbs. 

You can read more about how lighting manufacturers are contributing to WEEE waste on our blog.  

Redistribute Materials and Parts

This approach might be trickier to accomplish with a light bulb than an item of clothing, but the principle stays the same. In a planet-centric world, we would all redistribute our clothes, electronics, and soft furnishings. 

If you donate to charity shops, you already follow this principle. By donating the item, you are preserving the energy and resources that went into creating it. The alternative is to throw the item away, which wastes all the embodied energy. Here, energy is a symbol of the planet’s resources, which are finite. 

Switching From a Linear to a Circular Economy 

Manufacturers are unlikely to stop mass-producing single-use items unless las change. The linear economy is the new status quo, and it is seemingly here to stay. The drive towards a circular economy needs to start on a grassroots level, from leaders in niche fields like myself and my fellow co-founders at Green Light Alliance. This organisation aims to educate and inform individuals and organisations in the lighting sector about the consequences of our linear economy. 

Green Light Alliance is one of the driving forces behind the creation and implementation of industry standards. By standardising the rules that govern the production and design of lights, we hope to reduce harmful WEEE waste. 

We welcome designers and manufacturers who want to make a difference. Subscribe now to be part of the conversation.  

Final Thoughts

By definition, the circular economy requires manufacturers, brands, and individuals to work together. Can we expect this sort of community spirit from a society that is entrenched in single-serve products, services, and ideologies? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I will keep working with Green Light Alliance to highlight design flaws and waste concerns in the lighting industry.

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