Date: 15/11/2017

Upcycling Vs Recycling?

Kevin Stubbs MSLL is Technical Sales Manager at Llumarlite, discusses when to upcycle rather than recycle.

Recycling – converting waste materials in to new materials or objects can reduce the amount of waste, reduce processing energy and consume less raw materials.  Most recycling is to “re-use” as the same material (i.e. aluminium cans to aluminium billet to cast or manufacture more aluminium products), but much is “downward recycling” for instance, where plastics cannot be re-used as such so, for example, make fleece materials for clothing, rough cast outdoor plastic furniture or bollards etc.

Upcycling – transforming by-products (end of life products or waste materials), useless or unwanted items in to new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.

In lighting?

Many manufacturers aim to use recycled materials such as steel, aluminium, copper and glass back to raw material to remanufacture steel sheet metal, aluminium castings or reflectors, copper wiring or electrical components and glass in to new lenses.

which is the right choice?

However, when we look at plastics for optics or architectural finish then we cannot get the quality needed for producing accurate prisms with sharp lens profiles and efficient light transmission, so for accurate glare control and performance the recycled materials can be of insufficient quality for the desired task. 

There are various measures to compare the materials and processes used in the manufacture of luminaires and other building products, some manufacturers use 1Energy Performance of Building Products Directive (EPBD) - which is vastly over complicated for a luminaire, all its components, all the manufacturing processes and supply chains right up to individual materials - than that of simplistic building products for which it was intended.

However, why should we re-make something that serves its architectural need, or that provides a suitable housing, mounting or optic that can still be efficiently re-used. It is near impossible to calculate this, but a simple rule is “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”.  Llumarlite can work with you to retain some parts of existing luminaires and convert the light source and internal components.  This may achieve the architectural or aesthetic needs of a listed building, avoid landfill, re-use precious minerals and the energy used to recycle materials.  We may also be able to reduce payback time or simply retain as much on-site for reuse or “upcycling” where possible. 

Quick fix/Cheap import solutions..

…often do not live up to their promises or do not provide the safety, comfort or quality necessitated by the more discerning UK market and project requirements. These inferior quality (often LED) solutions mean that precious and increasingly rare minerals, phosphors and energy is often wasted in making the products. 

Along with the disappointment, wasted labour and effort installing these items, their short life span or the inadequate quality of light means that not only was the old original luminaire scrapped but often its new and promising replacement also has to be scrapped.  Add to this that sealed unit construction can mean that such luminaires are rarely suited to recycling, hence those rare minerals soon end up as landfill.  So, the short payback by installing cheap products rarely saves energy or material through life.  Quality and efficiency of the complete luminaire, its installation, light source, driver, controls technology and their realistic lifetimes and maintenance needs should also be considered when carrying out the design of a lighting system.



1This is not something that Llumarlite would to subscribe to.

For further information on this topic or to discuss your building/estate please contact Llumarlite.