The recycling of light sources: A look behind the scenes

Thanks to state-of-the-art recycling facilities, recyclable materials such as glass and aluminium are returned to the material cycle. This strengthens the circular economy. At the same time, harmful substances are carefully removed, protecting people and the environment. Today, take a look behind the scenes at Thévenaz-Leduc's modern recycling plant in Moudon.

The biggest challenge in recycling mercury-containing lamps is to protect people and the environment during the process. If a tube breaks or the toxic heavy metal is released into the air due to incorrect handling, there is a considerable risk to people and nature. To make matters worse, unlike with other electrical appliances, the mercury-containing substances cannot be removed before mechanical processing. In short, extreme caution is required during the collection, transport and recycling process.

In addition to glass, aluminium in particular can be returned to the cycle.

A vacuum chamber for the separation of mercury

Thévenaz-Leduc, which belongs to the BAREC Group, has taken up this challenge and installed a new plant in Moudon. The company follows the principle of integrated recycling. This means that the lamps are completely processed in the plant.

The vacuum chamber

This is where the fluorescent tubes are first crushed and sieved. At the same time, the mercury-containing dust adhering to the components and the mercury are extracted from the air and then passed through three different filters: a pre-filter, a hepa filter and an activated carbon filter.

Separation of harmful and valuable substances

The fluorescent powder, which still contains mercury, is collected in hermetically sealed containers and thus separated from the other recyclable materials. In this form, the fluorescent powder is transported to underground storage facilities in Europe for final disposal. The pollutant-free glass fractions, on the other hand, are cleaned and processed for the production of glass wool. It is used in the construction industry for insulation.

100 million fluorescent tubes 

Even though mercury-containing light sources were banned in Switzerland and the EU at the end of August 2023: According to estimates by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), around 5,000 million fluorescent tubes containing mercury are still in circulation in Europe. In Switzerland alone, there are around 100 million, which will end up in recycling in the coming years or at the end of their service life.