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19 April 2010

IKEA shines a light on electrical waste

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When it comes to recycling tricky items like lightbulbs and batteries, perhaps no other retailer is better switched on than IKEA

Maree Hutchinson is manager of Lakeside IKEA, Essex branch of the Swedish furniture store chain. Five years ago she was responsible for introducing recycling bins to her shop, and now they are in all 17 IKEAs across the UK.

While they take cans, paper, cardboard and plastics, the biggest benefit these mini-centres bring to the recycling effort are by giving people somewhere convenient and trustworthy to take their batteries and lightbulbs, the tricky electrical items. Last year the Lakeside store alone recycled 1,290kg of lightbulbs (regular and low energy), 500kg of batteries and 850kg of other electricals, all collected by Manchester-based Mercury Recycling.

"I stole the idea on a visit to one of our stores in Sweden," recalls Hutchinson. "It looked professional and slick and sexy, and I wanted that for Essex! It cost about £2,500 to put it in, and we have invested a lot of money in balers for the cardboard and plastics, so that we can do all that on site. We don't earn anything from the recycling but it's something IKEA has been doing internationally for 12 years."

She adds: "Customers are aware now that they can bring their recycling here and they come from all over with their batteries and lightbulbs. While we don't make publicity out of it, our customers get a good feeling from it."

Gateshead IKEA on Tyneside has taken recycling another step forward as the pilot site for a pioneering 'new lamps for old' scheme. The initiative came from WEEELite, a producer compliance joint venture between electricial recycling specialist Weeeco and energy-saving lightbulb manufacturer Megaman, which supplies IKEA with all its compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs, as energy-saving bulbs are known in the trade).

WEEELite audited the site to assess how existing practices could be improved and costs reduced, which resulted in the creation of a single storage point for returned lamps to be collected by Weeeco. Light fittings have the bulbs taken out and the plugs cut off to enable both to be reused, and the copper cable is stripped for recycling. Household appliances coming back to the store go to a local social enterprise so they also have the chance of being reused.

(Environmental Data Interactive -

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