Consumers Backlash Against Ban on Incandescent Light Bulbs

Light Bulb Ban A monumental ban on incandescent bulbs went into effect today throughout the European Union, marking a significant milestone in policy regarding consumer habits as a way to combat our collective impact on climate change.

It’s been long understood that compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are significantly more energy efficient, and while there will be a roughly three year grace period to completely phase out those non-CFL bulbs that have already been fabricated from the market, according to the UK’s Energy Saving Trust, this new ban could cut the average UK’s household by 37 Pounds (approximately $60) and save 135 kg (approximately 298 lbs.) of CO2 emissions each year.

What is notable, however, isn’t the potentially huge environmental impact this ban will have, but the large amount of resistance it is receiving.

Image Source: Inhabitat

According to articles in the BBC, NY Times, and several other publications, there has been a large public outcry about the EU disregarding both public opinion and public health in instituting this change.

“Why are we switching? Because we have to,” said Ralph Wennig, a 40-year-old photographer told the Times. Wennig conceded to the notion that the bulbs would result in considerable savings in the long run, but in the near term, one CFL could be as high as 2,000% more expensive than a traditional incandescent bulb. So, in the eyes of someone like Wennig, whatever savings that would be realized in energy bill would be drastically undercut by the upfront cost of purchasing CFLs.

Others have complained about the fact that not all CFLs fit in to existing light fixtures, and that the light emitted is much harsher, significantly affecting the quality of life in many people’s homes. EU officials have been quick to reassure consumers that they will still have plenty of choice, and that the changes would be gradual.

Are CFLs really good for the environment and bad for you?

Aside from the economic and aesthetic complaints of the light bulbs, several advocacy groups have also chimed in about the health risks of the wünder-bulb.

Sufferers of lupus, epilepsy, and several other conditions say the bulbs trigger painful symptoms. It has been linked to migraines and can considerably increase the risk of seizure, according to the BBC. One woman claimed that exposure to the new light bulbs led to a reddish-purple rash and continuous vomiting.

Another opponent told the British news organization: “Health is important and it should come over anything else, but they’re not looking after ours. They’re not listening to the public and aren’t talking to the actual sufferers.”

So, where is the balance then? Do CFLs really cause more harm than good? As this kind of fierce debate begins to resonate in the US, where incandescent bulbs are slated to be phased in 2012, what does that mean for us?

Readers: Tell us what you think!

Ashwin is an Associate Editor of Triple Pundit. He recently returned to the Bay Area after living in Argentina, where he wholeheartedly missed the Pacific Ocean. He is a freelance editor and media and marketing consultant.After a brief stint working in the wine world, when not staring blankly at a computer screen, you'll find him working on Anand Confections or at 826 Valencia, where he has been a long-time volunteer.

19 responses

  1. About the strange EU Parliament and EU industrial political pathway behind this ban:

    Europeans choose to buy ordinary light bulbs around 9 times out of 10 (light industry data 2007-8) Banning what people want gives the supposed savings – no point in banning an impopular product!

    If new LED lights -or improved CFLs- are good, people will buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (little point). If they are not good, people will not buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (no point). The arrival of the transistor didn’t mean that more energy using radio tubes were banned… they were bought less anyway.

    The particular error of banning 100W+ ordinary bulbs is that bright CFLs or LEDs are comparatively difficult and expensive to make, and the high wattage heat effect is not necessarily wasted (see below).

    Banning frosted lights smacks of particularly unwarranted EU pettiness, for any marginal savings involved. Clear lights (including halogens) have a strong glare – hence the overwhelming popularity of frosted lights for ceiling use.

    Another problem is that small bright CFLs and LEDs are difficult to make, so that candle/golfball lights are bulkier and may not fit some lamps.

    Supposed savings don’t hold up for many reasons.

    Just a few examples here:

    CFL Lifespan is lab tested in 3 hour cycles. That does not correspond to real life usage and numerous tests have shown real life type on-off switching reducing lifespan. Leaving lights on of course also uses up energy, as does the switch-on power surge with CFLs Also, CFLs get dimmer with age, effectively reducing lifespan

    Power factor:
    Few people know that CFLs typically have a power factor of 0.5 – that means that power stations use up twice as much power than what the CFL rating shows. This has to do with current and voltage phase differences set up when CFLs are used.
    Although consumers do not see this on their meters, they will of course have to pay for it on their bills. This is explained with official links including to US Dept of Energy here:

    Heat benefit from using ordinary incandescent light bulbs: Room heat substantially rises to the ceiling (convection) and spreads downwards from there. Another half of more of supposed switch savings are negated in temperate climates, as shown via the above link with several official research references.

    if energy use does fall with light bulb and other proposed efficiency bans and electricity companies make less money, they will simply push up the electricity bills to compensate: Energy regulators can hardly deny such cost covering exercise…

  2. CFL (energy saving lights) mercury problem:
    Maine state test reports have influenced US guidelines re what to do when bulbs break

    Does a light bulb give out any gases?
    Power stations might not either:
    Why should emission-free households be denied the use of lighting they obviously want to use?
    Low emission households already dominate some regions, and will increase everywhere, since emissions will be reduced anyway through the planned use of coal/gas processing technology and/or energy substitution.

    The Taxation alternative
    A ban on light bulbs is extraordinary, in being on a product safe to use.
    We are not talking about banning lead paint here.
    Even for those who remain pro-ban, taxation to reduce consumption would make much more sense, since governments can use the income to reduce emissions (home insulation schemes, renewable projects etc) more than any remaining product use causes such problems.
    A few euros (or equivalent) tax that reduces the current sales (EU 2 billion per annum, UK c. 250-300 million pa, Germany c 1/2 billion per annum), raises future billions, and would retain consumer choice.
    It could also be revenue neutral, lowering any sales tax on efficient products.
    However, taxation is itself unjustified, it is simply better than bans also for ban proponents, in overall emission lowering terms.

    Of course a ban is going ahead now, but is phased in with planned reviews…

  3. The way I see it is consumers have 2 choices:
    1) Deal with it
    2) Pay more, much more, for electricity down the line.

    Maybe banning isn’t the right solution though. It makes people feel like the gov’t is at their doorstep, and in today’s political climate that’s the last thing we need. I think a better solution is to promote decoupling for utilities, have them give away the bulbs for free, and if people don’t want ’em, they’ll just pay the difference eventually.

    1. Nick,
      if energy use does fall with light bulb and other proposed efficiency bans and electricity companies make less money, they will simply push up people’s electricity bills to compensate
      (not least in the USA with power companies often running their own grids, with little supply competition within the grids)
      Energy regulators can hardly deny such cost covering exercise…

  4. My mother is the lady intervied on the BBC due to the severe reaction these new energy saving light bulbs have on her. She has been house bound for over 12 years due to her allergy to UV light (both sunlight and light bulbs), and now she is going to be subjected to a life of utter darkness. My mother is only one of 30,000 people in the UK with this illness. Banning the only light bulbs these people can have in their own homes is discrimination against people with a severe illness. My mother is passionate about the enviroment and does everything she can to be enviromentally friendly. It is wrong to subject 30,000 people to darkness in their own homes. Particularly as for many like my mother they are entirely excluded from society due to their life threatening light allergies.

    1. What a cool conversation. Thank you Elspeth for your perspective. My guess is that the EU/UK isn’t necessarily trying to alienate and ghettoize people like your mother, but I can definitely see how this would be more than troublesome for her. You mentioned that your mother is passionate about the environment. What do you/she think would be good alternatives to dealing with the inefficiency of individual energy consumption, especially when it comes to lighting?

  5. I simply don’t understand why government mandates things like this. Personal freedom to choose various things in life should be a basic right, and rules like this violate that. I personally choose to use CFL’s as I know they will help clean up our world, but being made to do so is sickening to me.

  6. We haven’t yet banned the incandescent bulb here in the USA and I’m going to do what I can to be sure they don’t. I have tried using the CFL bulbs and the light they emit is so weak one cannot do anything by them. The wattage advertised on the bulbs is not nearly the same as an incandescent bulb.

    The bulbs are sickening people and you basically have a situation where the gov’t is mandating sickening people. It’s insane. The mother of the poster above deserves to live in light like anyone else.

    Here in my city the goverment tried to ban stores from giving free bags for groceries, so that if you forgot to bring a bag, you wouldn’t be charged for a bag. The people hated this so much here that they constructed their own bill, got enough signatures to put it on the ballot, and the voters overruled the city.

    Can Europe do anything like this via electoral votes to overturn the ban on incandescent bulbs?

  7. Correction to post above: …so that if you forgot to bring a bag, you WOULD be charged for a bag.

    This was overruled by the people. Everyone who was interviewed said it is better to give incentives for environmental use than to punish and tax people for nonenvironmental living.

  8. Thax,

    RE bags
    Yes, the idea of
    carrots instead of sticks,
    While light bulb tax is unjustified in itself, one could in that sense lower sales tax on efficient ones and raise it on inefficient ones.

    Re EU public petition:
    There is such a new avenue, subject to Lisbon treaty ratification
    (a treaty which ironically at the same time rules out allowing referendums more generally, as here in Ireland)

    So, supposedly if you get a million signatures (I think it is), the European Commission will then consider – but only consider – such an opinion in future legislation proposals, or in amendments to existing legislation.

    Not too great in other words, compared to the local democracy you mention

    What might happen though is that the process stalls,
    there is a review in a couple of years time, and an original great resistance was in the ban of clear light bulbs as used in chandeliers etc that the politicians themselves use, as reported in media!
    Anyway, the current ban is indeed mainly on frosted bulbs,
    despite having little or no efficiency difference with clear bulbs.

    More on the strange and unpublicised institutional and industrial politics behind the EU ban:

    1. I would certainly be less likely to defy the forced changeover if they subsidised the prohibitively expensive dimmable CFLs. But, since I can’t afford to pay £12 per bulb (especially when the couple I have used lasted no longer than a regular bulb, so I don’t know what magic is supposed to make them longer lasting!), I’ve stockpiled some cheaper regular bulbs – less economically friendly than the ones I would have normally chosen, but the swift bandwagoning of the likes of Asda left me with no choice – and will hold out until I have no other choice. hopefully by that stage they’ll stop trying to gouge us with lies like “it’ll last longer” as excuses.

  9. There are other concerns. “Advertized” brightness for CFL do not match actual incandescent brightness. A 60watt incandescent provides as much light as a 15W CFL, but 13w and 14w CFL are always claimed to replace. Where are the candelabra based CFLs? I have 28 candelabra base bulbs in my house, where I need them to support 16w CFL on dimmers, or I have to replace 7 light fixtures – probably £700-1000 worth of replacement bulbs. Now add the costs of replacing the fixtures for all of the clear bulbs in my house, and you have another 4, then replace all of the enclosed fixtures, like ceiling dome lights, since you can't run CFL in them – they overheat and burn out in DAYS, not years. Now I am replacing more than £4000 worth of light fixtures (if I buy on the cheap) to be able to replace my light bulbs with CFLs? In my 3000 sq ft house, there are a total of 4 light fixtures I would NOT have to replace. And, most of my lights are on dimmers, so I am either losing the flexibility of dimmers, or paying 5X the cost for a dimmable CFL. And what about the light in my garage door opener – that is subject to vibration and only stays on for 4 minutes at a time, or for the light on the landing on my stairs, that is on only when I go up or down the stairs – maybe 30 seconds at a time? Or the light in my bathroom – which is ONLY on for more than a few minutes when I shower. Now, when there is snow on the ground, how many CFLs work when it is freezing out? So, I cannot have any external lights, front door light, safety lights on the front of my house or garage? How long do I have to burn all the new CFLs in those new light fixtures to make up for the cost of replacements? Not in my lifetime, or that of my children.

  10. I live in the USA and have two CFL's running in my home. That's as many as I can use for the following reasons: My front door light is electronically timer controlled, CFL's are not made to be switched this way; the one in a hallway fixture has literally burned up in just two years, running for a total of about 5000 hrs. That's pretty good although the lamp is guaranteed for 8 years. When I removed it for replacement, the base of the lamp was burned. I called the company for a replacement and reported this burning and they say they know about this. It's a good thing it was in a closed fixture, I wouldn't want a child to be near it.
    Now I read from an Austrailian report that they are not made to be used in a closed fixture! The CFL's are only supposed to be used in an open air fixture. Well, the manufacturer doesn't tell you this and was not at all suprised that it burned and partially melted the plastic base.
    Also, what if it falls and breaks, dangerous phosphor powders are now on the floor or rug and have to be specially cleaned. Vacuuming it can spread the powder all over the house! Not to mention the small amount of Mercury released!
    There are some other unfriendly reasons but I won't elaborate further. I for one, am going to start hoarding some standard bulbs for the future until the manufacturers start telling the whole truth and improve these lamps.

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