Light Bulb Ban in EU | U.S., Canada Slow to Keep Up

Europeans stock up on incandescent bulbs

That's no message in a bottle. There's a light bulb ban on, and that's an enemy of green living. Destroy! (Photo:

That's no message in a bottle. There's a light bulb ban on, and that's an enemy of green living. Destroy! (Photo:

This reminds me of when Americans were stocking up on firearms as the fear of Obama clawed at their hearts. Unfounded or not, when there’s talk that something people need or like is perhaps going to be taken away, people race to the stores and fill their arms with as many of the offending items as they can carry to the register and out the door. In a similar fashion, if governments begin to crack down on small-scale consumer money lenders, you’ll see a drive for loans before the fall.

But what about the light bulb ban?

According to the New York Times, the European Union (EU) has restricted the sale of incandescent bulbs across Europe in an effort to combat global warming and save energy. Now shops can’t buy or import incandescent frosted glass bulbs; retailers are being allowed to sell out their stock. The United States and Canada expect to follow a similar path by 2012. We’ll see. I’m not sure how much faith I have in America’s ability to do anything quickly, unless it’s Cash for Clunkers (and that was done TOO quickly).

C’mon, America. Australia and Cuba have already done it. Do you want Castro to bask in the harsh glow of fluorescents before hard-working American citizens? Well, perhaps you do… perhaps it will be more effective than the exploding cigar the CIA once considered. In his current weakened condition, perhaps the harsh glare will push him over the edge.

The current move is on to switch incandescent bulbs out for fluorescent (CFL) bulbs or even LED lighting. The former use around 80 percent less energy and do not burn out as quickly, but the lighting is harsh and the individual bulbs are much more expensive (as much as 15 to 20 times more expensive than one incandescent bulb. Sure, they’ll save a family in the long term. But in the short term, when families need all the recession help they can get, spending $15 on a CFL bulb can be prohibitive.

What about the mercury in CFLs?

Environmental mercury is a concern many have over the light bulb ban and switch, which makes the EU light bulb ban a kind of test case for what the U.S. and Canada may experience. CFL bulbs contain mercury (a toxic metal element), and as the EPA direction sheet shows, cleaning up mercury is no simple matter. If a bulb breaks, you have a lot of work to do. Is energy efficiency and reduced problem of incandescent bulbs in landfills worth the chance that excess mercury is entering the atmosphere? Plus, entire industries will be crippled by this changeover. Some will adapt, many won’t. Workforce displacement is definitely a factor in the debate. If they are hired in lower paying jobs and need some help from money lenders, they can click the button to apply here.

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Stephen Russell of ANEC, an EU consumer product safety standards group, said that the allowed limit for mercury in CFL bulbs is too high. Currently five milligrams are allowed per bulb, but EU officials would like to see that reduced to two milligrams.

This says nothing for aesthetics

From photography to reading to interior design, lighting plays an essential role. This light bulb ban creates a definite strain upon EU citizens’ ability to capture images, read and be comfortable in their homes. From my point of view, CFL bulbs are horrible, but perhaps a necessary evil until LED lighting becomes more affordable for the general public. As you can see from the video below, LEDs use around a quarter of the electricity of fluorescents. However, where CFLs may cost around $15 per bulb, the cheapest LED home light bulbs are closer to $100 in America as of this writing.

So the Swedes have come up with a mercury-free CFL option, eh? Leave it to the creators of IKEA to set the tone. But it looks a bit dim… (Photo:

So the Swedes have come up with a mercury-free CFL option, eh? Leave it to the creators of IKEA to set the tone. But it looks a bit dim… (Photo:

Some argue that CFLs also don’t stand up to the wear and tear of being turned on and off regularly. In fact, some studies show they expire before some incandescent bulbs under those conditions. In response to this, various EU officials have recommended halogen bulbs. However, environmental groups believe those should have been banned along with incandescent, as they’re similarly wasteful.

The light bulb ban also doesn’t address the mental health issue. There are those who suffer from epilepsy and anxiety who depend upon incandescent lighting for normal function. By comparison, CFL bulbs can cause adverse effects.

Clear incandescent bulbs OK until 2012

EU officials want this to be gradual, so 60-watt clear incandescent bulbs will be available until September 2011, while 40-watt will be around until 2012, says the Times. The United States and Canada have similar plans for gradual phase out. But after that time, if CFLs aren’t an option, LED lighting will have to be more affordable for the average consumer.

Turn on your heart light

Let it shine wherever you go. Yes, I’m talking the Neil Diamond song about E.T. It takes some heart to make the right choice for the environment in this light bulb ban fracas. Sure, incandescent bulbs are more convenient in the short term – and the quality of light is definitely better. But what must happen is that we must press manufacturers of LED lighting to produce it more cheaply. Whatever legislation and research is necessary to make this happen needs to commence or be augmented, because CFL bulbs are not a viable option. People may have mercury fillings in their teeth and justify CFL bulbs on those grounds, but we don’t know what the long-term effects of mercury in teeth will be. I would wager it isn’t exactly harmless. If it means I’ll need to contact money lenders to find money for LED lighting in my home, I’ll consider it. But please, throw the people a bone.

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