Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Improved recycling of lamps and bulbs benefits Europe’s small businesses

Current methods for collecting and transporting waste lamps and bulbs can often result in breakages. This can have a serious environmental impact and reduce the value of the recycled material through contamination and the release of mercury emissions.
Improved recycling of lamps and bulbs benefits Europe’s small businesses
Between 2011 and 2021 around 800 million lamps and bulbs are predicted to appear in the European waste stream. Recycling operations usually handle a mixture of different bulb types, which are then separated and recycled. However, it is difficult to identify mercury-containing bulbs in a mixed waste stream.

These challenges were addressed by the EU-funded project ILLUMINATE (Automated sorting and recycling of waste lamps), which developed methods and processes for the collection and sorting of lighting waste.

Researchers created a multisensory system that automatically sorts bulbs into different classes and removes foreign objects. This device combines machine-based recognition techniques with sensors that recognise weight, colour and shape in order to identify different types of bulbs in the waste stream. Different treatment lines can also be connected to the recognition system and adjusted according to the material being sorted.

Following identification and separation, the mercury-containing and non-mercury-containing waste streams are handled by the appropriate processing steps and the waste bulbs are recycled. This facilitates the treatment of lamp waste, thereby maximising the recovery of glass metals, plastics and rare earth materials. The sorting system can also handle light-emitting diode lamps.

ILLUMINATE therefore successfully developed technologies to significantly reduce the ecological impact of material contamination during the collection of waste lighting. This will help to improve resource efficiency, thus enabling large numbers of SMEs and the services they provide to become more competitive.

In addition, project developments will help to lower mercury emissions and eliminate the need for manual work and coming into direct contact with recycled material contaminated by mercury. ILLUMINATE outcomes therefore improve compliance with health and safety as well as environmental legislation, helping also to open up new markets for European SMEs.

Related information


Recycling, lamps, bulbs, mercury, waste stream, ILLUMINATE
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